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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Al Green: Truth 'n' Time


1) Blow Me Down; 2) Lo And Behold; 3) Wait Here; 4) To Sir With Love; 5) Truth N' Time; 6) King Of All; 7) I Say A Little Prayer; 8) Happy Days.

The point of this record, however, is not clear. No sooner had Al rejuvenated and reinvented him­self with The Belle Album than he'd completed his conversion, and Truth 'N' Time turned out to be his last record of secular music for quite a long time. But it isn't even a properly done farewell to his classic image: coming off the success of Belle, it's a veritable cold shower, if not a straightforward fuck-you to this image. It's almost as if, at this point, he didn't care so much that he'd intentionally produced a total toss-off.

Truth 'N' Time completely adheres to the classic Woody Allen formula, introduced a year ear­lier — 'such terrible food, and such small portions'. With eight songs and not a single 'epic' among them, it runs for less than thirty minutes, and the amount of throwaway cuts rises over fifty percent. He didn't even write most of them, with gospel guru Bernard Staton contributing three cuts and two others being covers of Burt Bacharach that are usually associated with Lulu ('To Sir With Love') and Aretha Franklin ('I Say A Little Prayer').

Of course, Al's professionalism and work ethics prohibit him from releasing something utterly worthless, and the classic Green sound is still in vogue, with the ballads retaining the atmosphere and the dance numbers still kicking it up. But only moderately so. The title track and 'Happy Days' will only be bootylicious when not compared to the real maniacal punch of 'I Feel Good', which was like almost a meticulous study on all the possible reasons for shaking it up; and as for the ballads, the only thing that managed to register properly on my meter was the chorus to 'Blow Me Down', very idealistic and invigorating with its nice use of backing vocals. On the downside, the cover of 'I Say A Little Prayer' may be the closest Green has ever come to 'awful' — clumsy, rushed, and feeling completely superfluous; it's no use trying to do it if you're unwilling and un­able to compete with Aretha, and Al is neither able nor willing.

In short, I don't understand this record at all. Under different circumstances, I'd call this a typical effect of a "contractual obligation", but Al wasn't getting out of any contract — he was still asso­ciated with Hi Records, and he'd continue to be associated with them for much of his gospel peri­od. So, rather, Truth N' Time is just a semi-misguided album from a person who'd finally lost interest in secular pleasures, yet still could not force himself to make the complete conversion to the Lord's music; it took another couple of years and another stage accident in 1979 to finally convince Green that taking this career risk was the right thing for his soul. I am fairly sure that he himself, looking back, would give Truth N' Time a thumbs down as decisive as I am forced to award it, even if 'Blow Me Down' and the title track are salvageable in the long run.

And, as much as pure gospel music annoys me to no end — unless it is Mahalia Jackson taken in very small dosages — I guess that an inspired gospel album is still preferable over an uninspired secular pop one, regardless of whether it narrows your vision of things or widens it. Except I have about as much interest in reviewing gospel music as I have in writing about flamenco, so that you are free to explore Green's output in the 1980s on your own, without my judgements to refer to.

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