Friday, January 16, 2015

Let's Stay Together - Al Green

Let's Stay Together
Al Green
Hi Records SHL 32070

I saw an interview with Al Green a few weeks ago regarding him being the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.  It had been many years since I had seen him on TV and I was reminded of the man's natural ebullience and positivity.  He radiates good vibrations as much as any singer I have ever seen.  It is easy to see why he was so successful as a preacher.  I've been a fan of his for a long time.  He was one of the first soul singers I remember liking.  I was just getting into music and starting to listen to the radio during Green's rise to stardom in the early 1970s.  His classic singles were among my favorite songs at the time and when I got older and started collecting albums I was happy to add his to my collection.  Even after I got into the 1960s and discovered the great soul singers on Atlantic, Stax and Motown, Green still remained one of my favorite singers.  Although I'm not a believer, I like his gospel records too, but it is the great secular albums he recorded for Hi Records in the early and mid-1970s that I like the best.  I can't pick a single one as a particular favorite, but this one is certainly a contender.  The title song is one of the great songs of its era and one of the best love songs in rock.  It was written by Green with his producer Willie Mitchell and Al Jackson of Booker T and the MGs who played drums on the record.  The song is largely driven by the rhythm section who lay down a forceful groove that is occasionally given an additional push by the horn section and the background vocalists.  The song gives Green plenty of space to plead his case which he does with ardor and sexiness.  He sings with stylish grace and smoothness and displays his range hitting the high notes effortlessly.  It is a world class performance by a master vocalist.  I never get tired of hearing it.  None of the rest of the record can approach this fantastic song, but Green still sings his heart out through out.  "La-La For You" was written by Green and Mitchell.  It is another sultry love song.  It lacks the unstoppable groove of "Let's Stay Together" but Charles Hodges' keyboards and the horn section fill the spaces nicely and Green provides plenty of feeling.  It is one of my favorite tracks on the album.  "So You're Leaving" is uptempo and has plenty of punch courtesy of the horns and another strong rhythm track.  "What Is This Feeling" is more laid back but it still has a nice groove and a warm vocal from Green.  Side one concludes with "Old Time Lovin" which is a slow burner with a smoldering vocal from Green.  Side two begins with a cover of Eddie Floyd's "I've Never Found a Girl" which was a hit single back in 1968.  I like Floyd's version a lot, but if I had to pick one, I'd go with Green's.  He doesn't change it much.  He slows it down and let's his redoubtable rhythm section get up front and push the song's funky groove into prominence.  The biggest difference is Green's sensuous, virtuoso vocal which oozes sexiness.  The man's incomparable skill as a vocalist is even more evident in the following song, a cover of the Bee Gee's "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart."  I've never been a fan of the song, I find the original to be whiny and sappy.  Green cuts through the phoniness of the song and makes it utterly convincing.  For most of the song he sings with self-restraint refusing to indulge in the self-pity of the lyrics.  He lets the song simmer awhile before opening up and taking over the last part of the song with just the strength and authority of his vocal.  His masterful technique is stunning.  Up next is Green's original song "Judy" which sounds like filler after the drama and power of the previous two songs.  It is still tasty though.  The album concludes with another Green composition, "It Ain't No Fun to Me."  The song has a seductive groove to it which provides a solid framework for yet another supremely sexy vocal from the master.  The horn section gives the song a push in all the right places in that inimitable Memphis style.  Ho-hum just another classic album by one of the greatest singers in rock.  This is an essential purchase for anyone interested in contemporary pop music.  It sounded great in 1972, it sounds great now and it will still sound great in 2072 probably.  Plus for you single fellas out there looking for a soundtrack for date night, well look no further.  If this record can't get your special friend interested in you, well then it ain't gonna happen.  Recommended to Otis Redding fans.

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