AL GREEN: GREEN IS BLUES (1969)
1) One Woman; 2) Talk To Me; 3) My Girl; 4) The Letter; 5) I Stand Accused; 6) Gotta Find A New World; 7) What Am I Gonna Do With Myself; 8) Tomorrow's Dream; 9) Get Back Baby; 10) Get Back; 11) Summertime; *12) I Want To Hold Your Hand.
The "proper" start of Al's career: a new producer (Willie Mitchell), a new label (Hi Records), a new backing band (the Hi Rhythm Section), and... well, no, on this album the new determination to finally find his own unique style is nowhere yet to be seen. Green Is Blues, for some reason, drops the "Rhythm" stem before the "Blues" one, but one listen is enough to understand that in 1969, Al was still trying to market himself (or, rather, Al's producer was trying to market Al) as a cool swingin' cat, whippin' his audiences into a groove that didn't include smoothness, suaveness, and silkiness into its list of ingredients.
For one thing, Green is still singing with a certain degree of harshness in his voice; the lush velvet of his phonation was still waiting for a chance to unravel. (We only get a very little glimpse here on the rather so-so composition 'What Am I Gonna Do With Myself'). For another, there are very few straightforward ballads on the album — in fact, maybe just the opener, 'One Woman', which cleverly grows from quiet/tender to all-out operatic, and a cover of 'My Girl', and that's that. All of the other songs will at least have you tap your foot — including Green's lone original, 'Get Back Baby', where he tries to ride James Brown's funky train by relying on chicken-scratch guitars and very Brown-like grunting. Unconvincingly.
The entire album smells of foot-in-the-water, as would probably any album that covers both 'Summertime' and 'Get Back', not to mention the already mentioned 'My Girl'. The take on 'Get Back' is at least curious, along the lines of Otis Redding's take on 'A Hard Day's Night' — it's always fun to see the black groove masters adapt the Beatles to their own sense of rhythm and musical vision — but whether we really need one more version of 'Summertime' is certainly up to discussion. Green's vocals are perhaps most impressive on his version of the Box Tops' 'The Letter', since he actually sings all the way through rather than grunt or recite, and essays almost every trick in his vocal repertoire.
A major highlight that few people usually mention is Doc Oliver and Carl Smith's 'Gotta Find A New World' — actually, one of Al's most passionate socially-tinged songs, a little 'Gimme Shelter'-ish in mood, with its tense bass line, female backup harmonies and Green driving himself into frenzied desperation. A song almost criminally underarranged, though: with a little more work it could have become a timeless epic rather than just a forgotten track on one of Green's lesser records.
A decent start overall, but for some reason, whenever I call upon my heart and brain for judgement, both happen to be out for lunch, no matter what time of day it is. Meaning that the judgement has to be suspended, and the music lover should proceed at his own risk. There is a CD edition with lots of bonus tracks, I hear, but the only one on mine is an early single version of 'I Want To Hold Your Hand', which is... well, it's not difficult to imagine what an Al Green version of 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' could sound like.
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