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Main Category: Soul Music
Also applicable: Lush Pop
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties



Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of an Al Green fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Al Green fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1972
Overall rating = 12

Subtle and sexy - may take some time to appreciate, but it certainly won't be wasted time.


Track listing: 1) I'm Still In Love With You; 2) I'm Glad You're Mine; 3) Love And Happiness; 4) What A Wonderful Thing Love Is; 5) Simply Beautiful; 6) Oh Pretty Woman; 7) For The Good Times; 8) Look What You Done To Me; 9) One Of These Good Old Days.

Together with Call Me, this is usually considered to be Al Green's absolute songwriting and performing peak, and while I haven't heard enough of Green to see if the claim is justified, I won't necessarily disagree anyway. On here, Green delivers some wonderful, emotional, deeply subtle and at the same time rousing performances that should truly stand out as some of the more precious jewels in the crown of Memphis soul. And if you thought that sentence was taking the poetic stream of consciousness too far, well then, let me ask you - how is it possible to review Mr Green without resorting to metaphors and poetic expressions? Hardly possible, I tell you.

I mean, this was my first A.G. experience, and upon first listen I didn't feel anything, I was just bored to death. But then it struck me - sheez, this is soul music, after all. You shouldn't be looking for the melodies on here, because the melodies are inexistent. Take away Green's vocals and you will be left with, at best, a typical average Hollywood soundtrack; Charles Hodges' masterful organ playing, as usual, is the only thing that slightly detracts from the typical formula of horns, drums, mild guitar and sweeping sappy string arrangements. Not to mention that it's one of Green's mellowest albums, and nothing on here ever tries to rock out or pack the least amount of energy.

It's Green's masterful singing, of course, that is supposed to do the trick. His voice is in peak form here, alternating between loud (in Green's case, 'loud' is not that loud, of course, but desperate and involving all the same) and quiet (his wonderful 'falsetto modulations') in order to show a wide, wide, dang wide range of subtly alternating emotional states. All of the songs, in fact, are intimate, homely experiences, which is why it's so easy to miss out on the essence: the essence, in fact, is in subtlety, in that Al doesn't come across as your typical soul star simply because he's usually more quiet and introspective than most, and on I'm Still In Love With You he's even more quiet and introspective than he himself is usually supposed to be. But that's what makes the whole experience so endearing in the end.

It's hard to single out the highlights - my current bet for best song on the album is 'Love And Happiness', but it's mainly because it's not so much the best song as it is the most different one. All the other numbers on here are bright, shiny and optimistic; 'Love And Happiness', despite the title, is the sole moment of doubt and maybe even despair, going from an ultra-quiet, disturbing accappella introduction into a slightly more upbeat, yet more dangerous funky shuffle dominated by Hodges' gloomy organ. All the more strange is that Green's lyrics are pretty straightforward and normal, telling about, well, love and happiness. Is the subject of "love and happiness" really as dangerous as the backing melody suggests? Hmm... could be. Now here's one song to make you reconsider. When Al goes 'love is... walking together... talking together... singing together... being together, yeah...', you almost feel there's something wrong with the way he sings about it. A trick of the mind? A misunderstood intention? You decide.

Nothing else on the record is that ambivalent, but that's no big problem. The title track has Green wallowing in those high-pitched notes that not too many soulsters can (or will) easily pull off, creating an atmosphere of bliss and, well, lust, if you wish. 'I'm Glad You're Mine' has one of the better defined melodies on the album, a well-structured R'n'B number with each verse rising to a beautiful, if deeply hidden, climax with Al purring out... 'oh baby, I'm so glad you're mine' as the strings sweep by in brilliant flurs. One of my favourites, easily, oh, and don't forget that watery mysterious organ either.

On the hypermellow side, we have 'Simply Beautiful', which is even quieter than everything else (which is REAL quiet, as in, "one of the quietest numbers on one of the quietest albums of one of the quietest singers in the whole loud world"), so that you should use your headphones to catch the title's essence. I mean, what the heck, this is Mr Sensuality - you have to capture every aspiration and every tiny sound coming out of his throat. Oh well, considering that this album is deemed one of the most excellent soundtracks to be making love to, I can hardly imagine somebody making love in headphones... but then again, everything is possible in today's world, so no surprises here. Move on. 'What A Wonderful Thing Love Is' has Stevie Wonder-ish overtones to it - I suppose Stevie could have graced the song with some extra vocal hooks, but could he have mastered that wonderful tenor/falsetto alternation? 'I been... cryyyyyyying...' Sensitive and luxurious.

I do get a little bit tired towards the second half of the album, though, because beautiful as that whole vibe is, it does wear you out unless you treat it as simply relaxative background music, which is hardly a generous option. Thus, the cover of Roy Orbison's 'Oh Pretty Woman' is nice, but I would still take the original over it; and many people love Green's take on Kris Kristofferson's 'For The Good Times', but I find the song overlong and lacking true expressivity. As long as Al is really enticing us with his sensuous singing, that's OK, but here he seems to be restrained and held down by the chains of the original version. In brief, I far prefer Al doing his own songs rather than covering others. Fortunately, 'Look What You Done For Me' and 'One Of These Good Old Days' end the record on exactly the note I'd like, and that's a plus; the latter, in particular, is a really stunning finale, majestic and powerful, and with a boatload of hope, inspiration and looking forward to the future.

Really beautiful album. It is conventional beauty, of course - a beauty that never tries to break the chains of the "Soul Formula", but on the other hand, it's a beauty that proves that beauty is possible even within a limited formula.



Year Of Release: 1973
Overall rating = 12

A bit less introspective this time, but those who like their Green more upbeat will get happy this time...


Track listing: 1) Call Me (Come Back Home); 2) Have You Been Making Out OK?; 3) Stand Up; 4) I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry; 5) Your Love Is Like The Morning Sun; 6) Here I Am (Come And Take Me); 7) Funny How Time Slips Away; 8) You Ought To Be With Me; 9) Jesus Is Waiting.

I might be saying a strange thing, but here it goes: Call Me is a far more generic album than its predecessor. Let me explain: when you put on an R'n'B album, you expect a good mix-up of slow soulful grooves and faster (mid-tempo at least) 'rousing' numbers to get the blood flowing. Well, this is what Call Me gives to you, unlike I'm Still In Love With You, where the 'slow soulful grooves' don't just prevail - they rule over everything else. But in the process of digging into those grooves I, for instance, learned to really appreciate all the subtle overtones in Green's singing, which is not something I could easily do on here - Al's singing on Call Me is nowhere near as impressive. Don't get me wrong: it is impressive, but I miss a lot of these cute, faintly noticeable intonation shifts and emotional outbursts so essential for that 1972 album. This is a flaw, and a serious one.

But as serious as it is, it's easily compensated by the fact that Call Me is, simply put, more of a 'song-based' album than a 'groove-based' one. Not all, but many of these nine numbers can qualify as well-written tunes (or well performed covers) with well-defined structures and consequently, an ability to be memorable. The songs are also slightly more diverse - there's an extra bit of gospel and country here, and the moods vary seriously. This is not just Al Green bothering about love and happiness - this is Al Green bringing his love for Woman in direct contact with his love for God, and it's no accident that out of four numbers penned by Al Green without extra collaboration, two concern the Saviour and the fate of mankind rather than just, well, you-know-what. 'Stand Up' isn't a particular favourite of mine, but it's a gas to hear old Al wailing on that one anyway; 'Jesus Is Waiting', has some really clever melodic moves, ominous strings and a passionate, sensitive "vocal jam" (that's about the only way I can call such things) with well-placed hooks. Normally, I hate gospel music, but one of the worst characteristics of the genre is its being so tremendously overblown - I have no problem with gospel if the actual tune stays within the limits of decency and doesn't seem like it's been hastily thrown together for convenience' sake in about five seconds. And 'Jesus Is Waiting' is really, really quiet, just like everything in the Al Green catalog, and Al Green really, really delivers the goods on here... dig that ultra-ultra-hyper-quiet section in the middle where Al goes 'you been good to me, you been good to me' in his trademark falsetto, almost like a purring kitten, and then kicks back into 'loud' again ('loud' meaning "about as loud as George Harrison on 'Long Long Long', but to each his own standards). Beautiful.

That said, melodically my favourite is still the hit single 'Here I Am (Come And Take Me)'. Maybe I'm just a sucker for that grim drum/organ pattern that 'Love And Happiness' was based on - not that 'Here I Am' actually reminds of 'Love And Happiness', because the mood is far more joyful. It's simply the catchiest song on the entire album, and that means a lot; while I did say that generally the songs here are more memorable, that doesn't mean they're extremely memorable - essentially, you'll just be spending your time either simply wallowing in the gentle grace of Green's voice or you'll be ditching out bits and pieces of refrains and mid-sections, the latter of which isn't a particularly useful occupation. No, the way Green carries his message across is still far more important than the musical clothes he wraps it in. 'Call Me (Come Back Home)' is a beautiful semi-prayer, with Al making good use of vocal overdubbing (actually, there's a lot of vocal overdubbing on the album, far more than before; Al was probably trying to 'develop'); likewise, 'Have You Been Making Out OK' has Al double-tracked, creating some of the most beautiful multi-part falsetto harmonies ever recorded.

The best ballad is still 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry'. Don't ask me why. How could I explain? Jesus Mary, this is Memphis soul, goddammit! I just suppose that when Al is singing about his loneliness, actually, when he is impersonating an unhappy or troubled person, he comes across in a far more sincere way than when he's just portraying a love-smitten guy. Then again, maybe I'm just talking gibberish - forget that, just remember that 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry' is my second favourite song on the album and that should, could or would mean something, wouldn't it?

And - funny! - just like on the previous album, I find exactly one song on here that gets me really bored, and it's also a "country soul" excourse, and it's 'Funny How Time Slips Away'. I think Bryan Ferry did a better job with that one (and no, I'm not a diehard Ferry fan - I don't think Ferry did 'Take Me To The River' better than Al, nosir, you never never heard me doing that!). Tina Turner, though, did a far worse job with that one, so I guess we should be happy anyway. It ain't bad, just a little, a little, a teeny weeny bit boring.

In any case, none of these complaints matter that much. Let's put it that way: I'm not going crazy over this album (I'm not going crazy over Al Green in general, to begin with, but that's another story), but I enjoy it a lot, and I think I have managed to explain why. Now you just buy it and draw your own conclusions. Remember only this: if you find yourself bored to sleep, there's nothing wrong with that. After Brian Eno, Al Green writes the best lullabies in the whole wide world.


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