Soul legend Al Green always has put his best foot forward in the recording studio. He’s an institution for his songs of positivity, spirituality and just plain heart and soul.
With his latest offering, Lay it Down (Blue Note), the Rev. Green gets a little help from some contemporary R&B powerhouses to collaborate and pay reverence to his legacy.
Some of the stars along for the ride include singers Anthony Hamilton, Corinne Bailey Rae and John Legend, plus project co-producers Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, the drummer for The Roots, and pianist James Poyser, one of hip-hop’s most high profile session keyboardists. But with all the star power onboard, does the material hold up?
The album coasts in with some smooth guitar and organ interplay on the lush title track. Green delivers his verses with his usual tender touches and playful vocal phrasing. Hamilton is front and center as part of the chorus vocal choir and allows Green to pull off some pretty impressive vocal runs as the songs fades out. Hamilton pops up two tracks later on “You’ve Got the Love I Need” and gets a bit more showcasing by trading verses with Green, basically doing his best Green impersonation.
Another fine collaboration involves the The Dap-Kings horn section; the group received well-deserved praise last year for their work with Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones. The Dap-Kings Horns take center stage in many of the album’s arrangements, adding subtle punch to “What More Do You Want From Me.” It’s that soft presence behind the lead vocal that livens up the rest of the mid-tempo cut’s jazzy flourishes and is a clear highlight on the album.
One clear setback on Lay It Down is repetitiveness. About halfway through, the tracks begin to sound very similar, mainly because the tempo never changes. Adding to the repetition is the general theme of love.
Legend does a great job with his contribution to “Stay With Me (By the Sea),” taking a basic duet with Green and making it his own by tackling the high parts with his velvety delivery. He does such a good job that one could make the argument that Legend can use the track on one of his albums; it’s too bad this was his only partnering on Lay It Down.
The album ends with its most lively track, “Standing in the Rain.” It’s another fine, uplifting song with some peppy handclapping and Green out front testifying as only he can. You can imagine credits rolling at the happy ending of a romantic comedy or the old folks dancing it out one more time at the family reunion. Ultimately, that’s what Lay it Down is all about — feel-good moments.
— By Mike Madden