Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Two-Fer-Tuesday: Al Green

It's on my to-do list this week: Listen and maybe even try to get an advance copy of Al Green's new album on Blue Note Records, Lay It Down (2008), which according to the pre-release buzz is supposed to be a sensational return to form by one of the all-time great soul singers. It's supposed to hit the streets May 27.

We sometimes take Green for granted, but there's no question that you can't go wrong with his voice and choice of material – even when he devoted himself full-time to Christian music a few decades ago.

We've gotten so used to other artists covering Green ("Take Me to The River" by the Talking Heads and "Let's Stay Together" by Tina Turner, for example) that we forget that Green himself has taken on other people's material.

With mixed results, I have to say.

Which is the point of today's post.

I present to you Green doing two white soul classics – one is an interesting failure, the other is a stunning success.

From a purist's perspective, I don't consider Dionne Warwick to be an r&b artist. Particularly on her classic Bacharach and David tunes. Of all of these tunes, "I Say A Little Prayer" lands around the top of my list.

This is a song that has been done successfully by soul singers; Queen Aretha almost makes the song her own. But you really shouldn't go over the top for a song where its beauty is captured in its restraint. Dare I say it, but it really needs to stay on the dainty side to capture its inherent spirit. Green does his best to hold back on this version, which was included on his last secular album of the 70s, Truth N' Time (1977), but doesn't quite pull it off.

Play "I Say A Little Prayer" by Al Green

Way more successful is a more recent effort that paired Green with Vonda Shepard for a track on Heart and Soul: More Songs from Ally McBeal (1999). First sung by the English singer Lulu as the title track to the much-imitated 1967 Sidney Poitier film, it was a smash hit worldwide. But more than "I Say A Little Prayer," this was blue-eyed soul in the tradition of Dusty Springfield. In other words, Green could be his old self. Which is what he is as trades verse with Shepard, who often doesn't get due props due to her long association with the Fox series. Give it a listen. I think you'll agree with me. For a song featured on TV, this is pretty terrific stuff.

Play "To Sir With Love" by Al Green and Vonda Shepard

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