Sampled by everyone from Eric B & Rakim to Kanye West, classic soul singer Al Green has been around for over 40 years now, with perhaps his biggest and best known hit “Let’s Stay Together” still relevant to bedrooms and dessert commercials alike. While he made his career out of slow, sultry love jams like this one, he turned to Gospel music during the seventies and eighties. While this move lost his core audience, he returned to R&B in the late eighties, but since has not been able to successfully recapture his early levels of popularity. Until now, that is.
Lay It Down, his third album on Blue Note Records debuted at #9 on the Billboard pop charts – the first time he’s broken the top 40 chart since 1975′s Greatest Hits LP. What’s so different this time around? Al has taken a back to basics approach with this album, aided by producers The Roots’ Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and James Poysner. As fans of his early works, the duo understands what people want to hear in an Al Green record, and they successfully deliver.
He gets right down to business with the title track, “Lay It Down”, which sets up the record perfectly, as never-too-old-to-woo-the-ladies Green instantly captures the attention of his audience with this beautifully executed slow burner. Anthony Hamilton backs him up here – and again later on “You’ve Got The Love I Need”, another classically penned love ballad that captures the lost innocence of Green’s era perfectly.
Corinne Bailey Ray joins in on “Take Your Time”, a duet that finds the two sinking into the sheets, professing their (performed) love for one another, over ?uestlove’s slowest BPM ever. Obvious influence John Legend also collaborates with Green on “Stay with Me (By The Sea)”, another smooth-like-butter heartbreaker, finding the two Don Juan’s effortlessly finding the perfect words for their female counterparts. Who wants to put money on an ’09 Grammy duet for either track?
The collaborations are excellent, and add some star power to the record, but the true star here is Al himself. The majority of the album plays at a super relaxed pace, and Green is a natural at sliding back into his niche. ?uestlove and Poysner are perhaps the most important cog in the machine here. Rather than attempting to update Green by adding rap lyrics or modern hip-hop beats to his tracks, they instead see no reason to fix what isn’t broken. Instead, they provide classic backdrops in the tradition of his early records and successfully channel the sound of yesterday.
The only two out of place tracks here are “Standing In The Rain” and “I’m Wild About You”, a pair of of uptempo tracks that seem as if they would go over especially well at your grandparents’ wedding anniversary. It’s evident that Green was attempting to “get the party started” with these two tracks, so to speak, but both come off more dated than timeless. But at this point, he can do what he wants, so who are we to judge?
This is a record for the lovers, so despite these minor missteps, the first nine tracks of it play through flawlessly. 40 years into the game, Green gets the success he deserves once again. – Pizzo
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