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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Al Green: Let's Stay Together


LET'S STAY TOGETHER (1972)

1) Let's Stay Together; 2) La-La For You; 3) So You're Leaving; 4) What Is This Feeling; 5) Old Time Lovin'; 6) I've Never Found A Girl; 7) How Can You Mend A Broken Heart; 8) Judy; 9) It Ain't No Fun To Me; 10*) Eli's Game; 11) *Listen.

Early 1972 marks the arrival of the new, freshly-glossed Al Green. After half a decade of kicking around, he finally and ultimately falls into his new groove he'd be exploring for another half a decade, before making the transition into gospel. This is the period that has all the hits. It may or may not be one's favourite period in the man's career, but it's certainly his period, a time when everything came out all right and when no one else could make it came out the same way.

It is hardly a coincidence, either, that Let's Stay Together is Al's first album where the originals outnumber the covers — seven to two. Al didn't have much of a knack for conjuring tight funky grooves out of his own mind, but soft silky ones seemed to come to him naturally. The class of Al's act cannot be really esteemed without realizing that he really wrote songs with melodies, not just riding high on the strength of his newly-found unique voice and his tremendously gifted backing band. These melodies may not come through too quickly, and not all of the songs are of equal quality, but they, and nothing else, are the reason for owning all of these classic Al albums except of just one, for collection's sake.

The biggest hit — in fact, Green's biggest hit so far — was the title track, which is maybe just one tiny step away from a gross cliché of the idea of conjugal happiness, but it's exactly that one tiny step that makes me recommend it for all the happy couples in this world without the slightest bit of embarrassment. Some sappy strings in the background could spoil the picture if they were given free rein, but they never ever threaten to overshadow the song's main attraction: Green's voice, which had by then redefined the meaning of the word "soft" when applied to somebody's vocal cords. It's not just "soft", it's seducing to the breaking point, far beyond the realms of common decen­cy, I'd say. It has to be rated PG-13 at least, and X in extreme cases.

The new approach works so well that the grittier, funkier spirit of Gets Next To You is all but forgotten. Sterner rhythms only kick in on two tracks: the boppy album closer 'It Ain't No Fun To Me' and the paranoid 'So You're Leaving', which comes in two tracks after 'Let's Stay Together' and has the effect of a cold shower after the pleasant happy delicacy of the former: Green gives his best impersonation of a nervous, tired man on the edge of his seat (or sofa), tearing himself apart because he's being abandoned but never really able to decide what to do about it. (The man was always much too gallant to behave in a 'good riddance, bitch' manner).

Everything else is milk and honey, one hundred percent organic and fresh from the local farmer's market. Even the choice of covers is telling: the Bee Gees' recent lush ballad 'How Can You Mend A Broken Heart', one of their sugariest creations, which, in Al's treatment, manages to sound more natural and convincing.

Frankly speaking, there's a bit too much sugar, and the ba­lance would be somewhat corrected on Al's subsequent releases. The transition is too sudden and too total, and a few of the songs look like they're just there to mark this totality rather than to be minor masterpieces per se. But even the lesser songs still warrant further listening, and this means a sincere thumbs up from every piece of the organism, be it emotional or intellectual.

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