Al Green - Lay It Down (2008)
Soul legends do seem to have a hard time of it. So many have died before their time (Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye), replaced creative highs with artificial ones (Smokey Robinson, Chaka Khan) or turned to self-parody, willingly or not (Isaac Hayes playing Chef on South Park, James Brown and his police mug shots) that you begin to wonder if making timeless songs dripping with emotion involves a Faustian pact. You can have a soul smash that's loved the world over but, it seems, you'll have to pay.
It's possible that Al Green reached this conclusion. In 1974, after such creamy ballads as Tired of Being Alone and Let's Stay Together had turned him not only into a superstar but also an international man of romance, Green was assaulted by an old friend called Mary Woodson, who then killed herself, heartbroken that he didn't want to marry her. He was so deeply shaken by the experience that he turned away from stardom and towards God, and in 1976 he was ordained as a pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, where he remains to this day. He has released a lot of gospel records since, but classic soul hasn't been forthcoming - until now.
"It took me a long time to learn that God is love", says Green on his return to secular music. "If you're singing about love, you're singing about compassion". On Lay It Down he certainly sings about love. The lyrics to You've Got the Love I Need, No One Like You and Stay With Me contain the same simple message: I love you, baby. This could be unbearably saccharine if Green didn't sing with such conviction and if the music weren't so beautiful.
Conceived as a way of uniting Green with a new generation of soul and R&B singers, Anthony Hamilton, John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae among them, Lay It Down might have been an embarrassing attempt to modernise an old star. Instead, the producer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the hip-hop band the Roots has gone the other way.
The younger musicians have to fit in with Green's laid-back, slow-burning sound, in contrast to the excessive slickness of modern R&B. And while Corinne Bailey Rae sings with jazzy sophistication on Take Your Time and Anthony Hamilton shows how classic R&B can be updated on You've Got the Love I Need, it's Al Green's voice, so full of humour and joy, that stands out. Lay It Down proves that great soul music need not come at the cost of life itself.
01. Lay It Down (ft. Anthony Hamiton)
02. Just For Me
03. You've Got The Love I Need (ft. Anthony Hamiton)
04. No One Like You
05. What More Do You Want From Me
06. Take Your Time (ft. Corinne Bailey Rae)
07. Too Much
08. Stay With Me (By The Sea) (ft. John Legend)
09. All I Need
10. I'm Wild About You
11. Standing In The Rain
All files have the album image, track information and are ordered numerically.
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