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Al Green Lay It Down Album Review
AL Green revisited
The picture on the back of the CD case offers plenty of insight as to what lies inside.
A fit-looking Al Green, decked out in a refined white sweater with a gold chain dangling from his neck, sits barefooted with a huge grin on his face.
In a word – relaxed.
And that’s most definitely the mood of the Rev. Al Green’s latest offering – relaxed.
Lay it Down is the sound of a man who has found his place in this big old world, and it’s the sound of a man who is content to be in that place.
Green was a chart-topping R&B powerhouse in the 1970s and the crossover appeal of his impossibly sensual croon saw him notch a slew of smoldering hits, including “I’m Still in Love With You” and the ultimate lover’s plea “Let’s Stay Together.”
But somewhere along the way, as so often happens, success led to a slew of personal problems that got in the way of Green carrying any momentum much past the mid-70s.
Instead of giving up, Green gave himself up to the Lord.
This signaled the re-birth of Green spiritually , helping get his personal life back on target, but it also slowed down his recording career.
Green became an ordained pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis and turned much of efforts, music-wise, to gospel recordings. Green delivered sermons at the church and devoted much of his time and energy to a number of charities.
Then with his own house finally in a peaceful order, Green made his long-awaited return to the world of secular music in 2003 with I Can’t Stop, recorded for the Blue Note label.
Green’s guiding hand from his chart-topping days at Hi-Records in the 70s, arranger/producer/engineer Willie Mitchell, was back on board for the legend’s return on I Can’t stop, and he also helmed the follow up, Everything’s OK, from 2005.
Before Green and Mitchell hooked up to start work on I Can’t Stop, their last work together was 1976’s Let’s Have a Good Time.
And while I Can’t Stop is a welcome return to form, it wasn’t until Everything’s OK that Green and Mitchell really began to re-discover that old magic they forged on those hot summer nights in Memphis many years ago.
It just takes a half a listen to “You Are So Beautiful,” a song normally associated with Joe Cocker, to make Everything’s OK far more than just an OK disc.
Mitchell’s fingerprints were definitely all over the Reverend’s first two discs of his return to the mainstream and the chemistry was certainly swinging hard and fast by the end of Everything’s OK.
Al Green "Simply Beautiful"
Lay it down... Broken Down
But, Mitchell is absent from Lay it Down.
In his place, Lay it Down was produced by Green, along with The Roots’ powerhouse drummer and driving force “?uestlove” Thompson and James Poyser.
So is Mitchell’s absence felt on Lay it Down?
In a word – yes.
It’s still Al Green and still features plenty of his sweet, southern tenor, along with plenty of punchy, horn-driven arrangements, but Lay it Down has a slightly jazzier feel than its two immediate predecessors.
No doubt a lot of that looser, jazzier feel is probably “?uestlove’s” doing.
“?uestlove” also commands the drum throne on this one, giving the backbeat a more direct, up front presence than what Green usually has going in the studio.
Another new addition to Lay it Down is the presence of The Dap-Kings Horns, the hard-working brass section that made its mark supporting Sharon Jones over the course of the past few years.
They do a good job supplanting The Royal Horns, Greens’ customary sidemen.
Lay it Down also features John Legend, Anthony Hamilton and Corinne Bailey Rae lend vocal support to the good Reverend.
Rae duets with Green on “Take Your Time,” which creeps along at a late-night gait, while a delicately arranged string orchestra provides dramatic emphasis for Green’s most seductive delivery on Lay it Down.
And while it would have been nice to see if Green and Mitchell could have taken their collaboration to new heights after Everything’s OK, that doesn’t mean that Lay it Down is a mistake.
Because Green’s voice has aged remarkably well, and as should be expected, is the guiding light of Lay it Down, no matter who is in the control room.
So while Lay it Down, or the other two post-millennium releases from Rev. Green can never take the place of his four superb early 70’s masterpieces – Get’s Next to You (1971), Let’s Stay Together (1972), I’m Still in Love With You (1972), Call Me (1973) – they offer plenty of testament as to what made the man from Forest City, Arkansas a bona-fide soul legend.
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