Friday, May 23, 2008
Rhythmic Review: Al Green - Lay It Down
Three years since his last LP, Soul music veteran Al Green has a new release upon the horizon, the return to form opus, Lay It Down. Being an undeniable legend, respect is automatically given to him, and many that have paved the way like he has, but unlike many others, Mr. Green is no longer coasting on memories of hits that have been, he's trying to make you remember WHY he is a legend, by making music that is reminiscent of his legendary sound.
Coming to prominence in a time that saw other Soul Mavens like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Curtis Mayfield, Al always had a sound that was very clockable as his own, a heavily soul rooted sound with gospel influences that would provide a transcendent feel to anyone listening, plus the heavenly voice that seemed to glide over every harmony and melody effortlessly, always helped.
Unlike many artist that experienced a surge of success in the 60s and 70s that try and make a print in the fickled, fluctuating music market now, Al decides to stick to what he knows best, and that's soul. Nothing from concentrate or particularly geared toward the sound of today can be heard on this album, and that's a GOOD thing. Nothing hurts my soul more than a legendary singer collaborating with an artist out now because its "cool" or because its "what the kids are doing" It diminishes their credibility, confuses hardcore fans, makes them look ridiculous, and is just plain SAD (The Isley Brothers, anyone?)
This time around, Al bravely chose to collaborate with the drummer/producer/mastermind of the world famous The Roots band, Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, and rightfully so. The production genius has found his way, more so lately, behind the sound board for other artist outside of the Roots camp and has captured eras and sounds from the past effortlessly. On his reworked Pharrell Out My Mind album, he turns the production upside down and captures the sounds of 80's Michael Jackson and Prince as if he were in the studio with them during those golden years. Other recent notables from ?uest have been his work with Common, D'Angelo and most recently with Erykah Badu on the apex of her Amerykahn Promise album with "Telephone". ?uest didn't disappoint when it came to working with Al; Lay It Down jogs the memory of classic Al G-reen recordings, yet breathes new life into a sound that has desperately been needed in today's music.
The title track "Lay It Down" opens up the album and foreshadows the raw and pure soul that will be displayed in tracks to come with help from the gritty gospel voiced Anthony Hamilton doing background. This duo shows up again on the song "You've got the love I need" and showcases the beautiful juxtaposition between Al's angelical voice and Anthony's unapologetic textured coos. The light and breezy "Just for me" lays smack dab between both 'Lay' and 'You've got' so it provides a nice cool down before your forced to catch a groove with the latter's bass egging you on to get out of your seat. The beautiful horns in "Take your time" featuring Corrine Bailey Rae is reason enough to give this man an Grammy, the back and forth between Rae and Green is so smooth and effortless it takes you back to a time when Male and Female collaborations were common and refreshing with the Marvins and Tammies and Roberta and Donnys. The shining moment, more so than the countless others, on this album has to be the John Legend collabo on "Stay with Me (By the Sea)," the track gives the genius sound of earlier Al works a rejuvenation of sorts and shows how a person's signature sound of the past can be modified to the now, Stevie and Aretha take notes.
With fads coming and going, manufactured artist rising to dominance, and vocadors replacing live instruments, soul has been desperately needed to water the dehydrated music industry. If Al gets his way, he won't only quench the thirst of real music lovers, but will drown out all the crap while he's at it. The result of an amazing and timeless talent with genius production, suitable collaborations and the need to make GOOD music, rather than the need to make NOW music, is one of the most soulful albums in recent years and definately the best this year so far.
I give Lay it Down an A+