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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Al Green: Lay It Down

LAY IT DOWN (2008)

1) Lay It Down; 2) Just For Me; 3) You've Got The Love I Need; 4) No One Like You; 5) What More Do You Want From Me; 6) Take Your Time; 7) Too Much; 8) Stay With Me (By The Sea); 9) All I Need; 10) I'm Wild About You; 11) Standing In The Rain.

As if we needed one more proof that life is stranger than fiction. Two times in a row, Al Green had unsuccessfully attempted to recreate the Ol' Green magic by immersing himself in the pains­takingly recreated setting of the legendary Seventies. It did not work. What was the reason? No one knows for sure. Then, for causes unknown, Green switched producers: instead of old pal Willie Mitchell, Lay It Down was produced by Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, from the hip-hop out­fit of The Roots. And presto, third time's the charm: suddenly, everything works!

I can only explain this by admitting that people change, and that, at this particular point, there are people for whom it is easier to step into Willie Mitchell's old shoes than for Willie Mitchell him­self. The essential difference between Lay It Down and Green's previous two records is that Lay It Down sounds far less cluttered. At his best, Green worked in a subtle way — nothing, to me, exemplifies the beauty of his approach better than the gallant dialog between the man and the strings on 'I'm So Glad You're Mine', and these subtleties were thoroughly missed on both I Can't Stop and Everything's OK. Now they're back — maybe not in a real big way, but they're definitely back, and the magic is back with them.

If the former two records both opened with an energetic, punchy rocker (that, nevertheless, some­how missed the punch), Lay It Down opens with the soft, relaxed title track, meaning that the company set their aims real high — on attempting to recreate the el-paradiso-atmosphere of I'm Still In Love With You rather than the much more dance-oriented collections of the mid-Seven­ties. And even if 'Lay It Down', featuring R'n'B guest star Anthony Hamilton on additional vocals on the chorus, is no masterpiece, it is still a perfect conductor for Green's warmth and kindness. Revolving around a (finally!) good vocal hook in the chorus, it manages to reinstate my faith in Green's soul therapy, and who could ask for more?

But there is more. Additional magic can be found, for instance, on 'Take Your Time', where Green cedes a large part of the vocals to another guest singer, Corinne Bailey Rae, and their duet, aided but definitely not overshadowed by the usual silk screen of lounge instrumentation, is touchingly sincere. In fact, just about every ballad on here is good. The upbeat numbers are more hit-and-miss, perhaps running a bit too close on the heels of the generic product of yesteryear, but even so they manage to close the record perfectly — 'Standing In The Rain' is a great singalong number in the pure R'n'B tradition, with nary a sign of disco and sung in such an encouraging manner that somehow it leaves you certain that this isn't the last time you are heartily enjoying a slice of Al Green wizardry.

It may be so that all the «new blood» was brought in primarily with the aim of assuring chart suc­cess, an argument reasonably upheld by the fact that the album got an assured chart success, ri­sing to #9 on the Billboard where Everything's OK had previously stalled at #50. And we all know that Green is not the kind of ivory-tower artist that is most alergic to popularity: he is a prea­cher, after all, and regardless of whether you're preaching about heavenly or quite earthly love, you are a proverbially lousy preacher if you're not interested in attracting a large crowd. But if one's successful search for success even today, when even Google has trouble juxtaposing the words «good taste» and «Billboard», can, as it turns out, be compatible with a record as elegant, delicate, and well-crafted as Lay It Down — maybe there's still hope for our fellow earthlings. Thumbs up on the part of the grateful heart.

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