EMI 3484492; EMI ITALIANA - Italia; Pop Internazionale
Few performers have ever been so inimitable as the Reverend Al Green, so it's no surprise that the starry young collaborators who join him on the superb Lay It Down simply let the man sing in the way he knows best, and make their own contributions fit around his. Despite the presence of such luminaries as John Legend, Anthony Hamilton and Corinne Bailey Rae and the support of co-producers James Poyser and the Roots' Ahmir '?uestlove' Thompson, this is very much Green's show. But although the smart production attempts to update his classic sound, Lay It Down recognises and preserves its enduring strengths. ?uestlove's brilliant drumming perfectly recaptures the languid snap the late Al Jackson Jr. brought to Green's legendary seventies hits, Larry Gold's string arrangements are measured and minimal while crack guitarist Chalmers 'Spanky' Alford, on one of his last sessions, demonstrates precisely how to balance rhythm and detail (The album is dedicated to his memory). Songs like the elegant title track, where Green out-emotes the decades-younger Hamilton, "Take Your Time", a lovely deep soul duet with Bailey Rae, and the quietly propulsive closer "Standing In The Rain" are naggingly timeless, though there really isnt a weak track on this excellent record. Lay It Down is a gift from one generation to the man that inspired them.--Steve Jelbert
Soul music; there's a lot of it about. But when you say 'soul' what exactly are we saying? Anyone who's read Peter Guralnick's excellent Sweet Soul Music knows that the roots of this genre lie in the semi-divine meeting point between the sacred and the profane. Ray Charles' call-and-response exhortations were born out of the church. And no one represents this dichotomy better than the 'Reverend' Al Green. Famously eschewing the sweaty Memphis stew of lust and love for his beloved church in the late 70s, he finally returned to the commercial/secular arena (in 1988 with a duet with Annie Lennox), presumably after he'd cleared his conscience with The Man Upstairs. The one thing that's become clear ever since is that spending time in the pulpit has, if anything, kept one of the best RnB voices in the world as expressive as ever. Lay It Down is marvellous.
The Roots' Ahmir '?uestlove' Thompson produces, and sensibly keeps the vibe as close to the classic Hi-Records/Willie Mitchell-era sound as possible. Parping brass and loping drums leave space for that voice to stretch out and do its thing.
Of course, you can't be a legend and release an album these days without also 'featuring' some young guests to draw in anyone young enough to be unaware of the legacy. On Lay It Down it's Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend and Anthony Hamilton who do the honours. They're all fine singers, and none of the tracks are an embarassment. But despite best efforts these are the low points on an otherwise splendid album. At 62 the Reverend still stands tall over all the acts that have been spawned in his name. On this showing Al Green will still be knocking 'em dead both in the chapel and the concert halls for a long time to come yet. --Chris Jones
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