To call Al Green’s new album “baby-making” music would be too simple. Yes, it wants to seduce you and whisper sweet nothings in your ear, but while Green does try to seduce your body with his music, he also wants to seduce your mind. And that is what separated Green from the pack of other soul-crooners in the 1970s; the idea that Green does not just want to get you into bed, he wants to get to know you while there.
Lay It Down serves as the true follow up to 1977’s The Belle Album, considered to be the last “real” Al Green album, after which he devoted his time to gospel music and his church. In the 30- plus years since his last “real” album, not much has changed with his unique voice. He takes every note to the end of breaking, with his one of kind whispered wail that with one “heeeyyyy” or well placed “wooooo” can bring even the most hardened soul to the edge of love.
Roots drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, who produced the album, does not mess with the vintage sound that defines Green. Just as with all Green albums, it sounds better if listened to late at night with a bottle of wine, your significant other, and the lights dimmed low. But Thompson does bring an edge to the timeless quality of Green, making his music sound retro but with a modern twist. Guest spots by current R&B stars Anthony Hamilton, John Legend, Corrine Bailey Rae, and the Dap King’s horns only serve to strengthen that modern twist.
Rae’s duet with Green, in particular, is the album highlight. Backed by a simple bass and drum line, the Dap King’s horns provide the atmosphere with a dreamy touch as Rae’s breathy whisper fits perfectly inside of Green’s soulful wail, as they remind you “Just take your time, no need to hurry baby/ Just take your time, why you wanna rush and hurry baby.” It instantly becomes a classic cut that stands shoulder to shoulder with Green’s strongest work.
But at the end of the day, the star of the album is, as always, Green and his one-of-kind eternal soul that has sung countless couples together. And on Lay It Down he does that again. From the opening title track, it is again 1977 and Green is back on top, singing softly for you and your girl with the lights down low.
As Thompson found while working on the album, “The key is that you have to mute everything else, and just let Al shine.”
Lay It Down is out now on Blue Note Records.