AL GREEN: GETS NEXT TO YOU (1971)
1) I Can't Get Next To You; 2) Are You Lonely For Me Baby; 3) God is Standing By; 4) Tired Of Being Alone; 5) I'm A Ram; 6) Driving Wheel; 7) Light My Fire; 8) You Say It; 9) Right Now, Right Now; 10) All Because; 11*) Ride, Sally, Ride; 12*) True Love; 13*) I'll Be Standing By.
Third time gets it right. Please own this Green album: there is nothing else like it in his catalog. Al's first really focused, really consistent effort still catches him in his transitional phase, when he hasn't yet decided whether it is more promising to keep on putting out harder, grittier grooves, or to completely reinterpret himself as The Ladies' Man. So he tries some of both, but with a serious bias towards the "grittier" side nevertheless — and if you've ever gotten tired of the exquisite, but tiring soft sound of his post-1971 records, Gets Next To You gives you an Al Green who can do it all: rock along with the best of 'em and croon like even the best ones of them can't.
The only thing he can't do is get next to you, as he shamefully confesses in the title track... but then you look at the album title and you know he's only pretending. Slowing down the original Temptations version, removing the funk and replacing it with a slow, longing, burning R'n'B melody, Al gives the song a whole new life, and the Memphis Horns a terrific playground for practicing their brassy geometry. Instead of playful and aggressive, the song is now dark and disturbing, and while Al's one-man potential is not enough to replace from four to six different individual Temptations, he has the advantage of personalizing the song and building up a persona: the same confused, chaotic, but mild and lovable persona he'd be regularly invocating from now on. Watch out for the two or so bars of grizzly psychedelic-Funkadelic-like guitar in the solo, too.
But 'I Can't Get Next To You' isn't the only half-cool, half-relaxed, sweaty, rhythmic workout on the album. 'I'm A Ram' is like a tightly wound coil of great brass, organ, and guitar riffs, over which Al asserts his superiority to the average Joe; Roosevelt Sykes' (yes!) 'Driving Wheel' is indeed given the musical shape of a rollin' wheel (more great riffage); and on 'You Say It', 'Right Now, Right Now', and 'All Because' they finally figure out how to make Al sound funky without emulating James Brown. It turns out that all you have to do is just... stop emulating James Brown!!! (Even though he still can't help giving out a few grunts and hiccups on 'All Because', but on that particular song they fit the ominous organ chords to a tee).
The album's biggest hit and best-known song was, however, one of the "softies" — 'Tired Of Being Alone'. For a good reason: this is the tune that has for the first time given us the new, silky-smooth Al Green, and the world certainly didn't forget it. But in the general context of the album, there's little that makes this tender little gem more worthy than the poppy, jumpy 'Are You Lonely For Me Baby', or the gospel number 'God Is Standing By'.
So we will forget the album's only clumsy misfire — a lumbering reconstruction of 'Light My Fire', in the vein of the failed experiments on Green Is Blues — and join the brain and the heart in a glorious thumbs up tandem. Perhaps this isn't the most sonically perfect album Al ever cut, but it's certainly one of his most consistent, and one that goes down the easiest with me.
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