Al Green CD Boxset review [The Right Stuff]

Music Reviews
Al Green CD Boxset review [The Right Stuff]
Sep 7, 2004, 18:31

AL GREEN The Immortal Soul of Al Green 4xCD

Yes, the supporting players are great and many. But when it comes down to it there are but four true pillars of Southern soul: Otis Redding, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and the mighty Rev. Al Green. And while the shelves have held essential box sets by the first three icons (Otis on Rhino, Aretha on Atlantic and two by J.B. on Polydor) for a few years now, Green's legacy has been marred by Capitol's bungled Al Green Anthology set from 1997. A four-disc package, Anthology disappointed both fans and newcomers by focusing on inferior live versions of Green classics and disrupting its already sketchy sequence with lengthy interview segments. Those looking for the definitive Al Green compendium were advised to wait until someone with brains and integrity (and rights to the studio masters) picked up the mantle.

But good things occasionally do come to those who wait. And, with a career-spanning roster of 75 tracks (remastered from the original analog tapes) spread over four discs and packed into a lavish, 56-page, hymnal-style hardback book, The Immortal Soul of Al Green is a very good thing indeed. Like Anthology, this set kicks off with Al Greene (sic) and The Soul Mates' 1967 hit debut, “Back Up Train”—but the similarities end there. Whereas the earlier release included only 12 of Green's 28 R&B-charting singles for the Hot Line, Bell, and Hi labels, all but two make the cut here. Oddly, these discs are titled “Sex,” “Love,” “Salvation,” and “Soul,” seeming to suggest that the tunes are arranged thematically. But, instead, the running order is more or less chronological; after briefly touching on Green's Michigan Hot Line/Bell period, the seamless sequence plunges into his superstar years with producer/arranger Willie Mitchell at Memphis' Hi Records and, eventually, into his concentration on gospel in the late 70s.

In Memphis, Green and Mitchell worked magic. Ensconced in the Royal/Hi studio and backed by the superlative Hi rhythm section featuring the Hodges brothers—Teenie (guitar), Leroy (bass), and Charles (keys)—and either Howard “Bulldog” Grimes or the incredible Al Jackson Jr on drums, Mitchell brought his supper-club jazz background to bear on Green's earthy grit. In the late 60s and early 70s, when everyone else was still trying, vainly, to copy James Brown or the Stax sound, Green and Mitchell were sculpting two newer, more sophisticated tangents of soul music. One innovation took a sleeker, more modern approach to upbeat tunes, marked by the singer's barely contained,

gospel-rooted jubilation (“Love and Happiness,” “Take Me to the River”). The other development was the move toward the dim-the-lights lady pleasers for which he is perhaps even more revered today (“Let's Stay Together,” “I'm Still in Love with You”).

But if you only want the hits, there are a jillion single-disc Al Green comps already in the racks. While Immortal Soul has almost all of those hits, from '67 to '78, it naturally gives a more complete portrait of Green's boundless talent, piling on his little-heard (by secular ears, anyway) gospel material, deep album cuts, B-sides, and several studio outtakes that were only previously available on a pair out-of-print import rarities LPs. With this much music, one can't help but be flattened by the sheer emotional beauty of the man's craft.

While the argument can be made that classic albums such as Let's Stay Together, I'm Still in Love with You, or Call Me are best experienced as the seamless love-'n'-groovefests they already are, this package is a lifesaver for those of us who can't always get to our old LPs and need to know we have fast access to sizeable chunks of His Al-ness.

One gripe, though: while the set centers on Green's milestones with Hi, it's still highly frustrating that Colin Escott's liner notes tease us by mentioning his earliest singles with The Creations, when none of that group's material is included. Even still, the selection and sequencing here really do make for one hell of a party, one that will stand proudly next to your Otis, J.B., Aretha, and Stax boxes. [Hi/The Right Stuff]

-Peter Aaron

Filed Under: MusicMusic Reviews

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.