Thursday, 4 February 2016

"The Essential Albums Collection" by AL GREEN (2016 Hi Records/Fat Possum 5CD Box Set Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Love Is Like The Morning Sun..." 

Al Green uses his wonderfully expressive voice like a sex machine - purring like a cat as he begs and testifies, growling like a bear as he leers – finally caressing a note until he squeezes the pips out of that sucker – while all the time chuckling salaciously during someone else's guitar solo.

Just re-listening to the "Al Green Gets Next To You" LP from 1971 inside this simple but effective Fat Possum Records 5CD Box Set (under exclusive license from Hi Records) and you’re struck by three things - (a) his fabulous voice and how he used it (b) the sheer strength of the material on offer here whether it be a dancefloor shuffler or a pull-you-close ballad and (c) how truly fabulous the remastered audio quality is. All five of these CDs sound like the BOB NURBERG versions done for The Right Stuff label in 2003 (although it doesn't say who mastered what or where anywhere on this release).

The glossy clamshell box is pretty to look at (tactile to the touch too) while the slightly oversized matt 5" card repro sleeves on the inside (all singular) simply depict the back and front artwork of the American Hi Records albums (the US album track configuration are used which are different for the first two releases in the UK – see Notes). There's a skimpy two-page inlay with very basic liner notes by BOB MEHR. But none of that simplicity/lack of even writer credits stops this set from being a total winner and a comely reminder of his superb contributions to Soul Music in general. Time for big Al Green to 'get next to you'...

UK released Friday, 29 January 2016 (February 2016 in the USA) – "The Essential Albums Collection" by AL GREEN on Hi Records/Fat Possum FP1532-2 (Barcode 0767981153223) is a 5CD Clamshell Box Set and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 "Al Green Gets Next To You" (33:12 minutes):
1. I Can't Get Next To You [Barrett Strong & Norman Whitfield song, Temptations cover]
2. Are You Lonely For Me Baby [Bert Barns cover]
3. God Is Standing By [Johnnie Taylor cover]
4. Tired Of Being Alone [Al Green]
5. I'm A Ram [Al Green & Mabon Hodges]
6. Driving Wheel [Roosevelt Sykes cover] – Side 2
7. Light My Fire [The Doors cover]
8. You Say It [Al Green]
9. Right Now, Right Now [Al Green]
10. All Because [Al Green]
Tracks 1 to 10 are his 3rd album "Al Green Gets Next To You” – released August 1971 in the USA on Hi Records SHL 32062 and November 1971 in the UK on London SHU-8424. The UK album had 14 tracks as opposed to the US version with 10 – British pressings added "My Girl" and "Get Back" onto the end of Side 1 and "The Letter" and "One Woman" onto the end of Side 2. All four tracks came from his 2nd album "Green Is Blues" released April 1969 in the USA (his first album on Hi Records) - unfortunately they're not covered by this box set. If you want them your best buy is the 2003 Bob Norberg CD remaster of the "Green Is Blues" album on The Right Stuff label.

Disc 2 "Let's Stay Together" (34:10 minutes):
1. Let's Stay Together
2. La-La For You
3. So You're Leaving
4. What Is This Feeling?
5. Old Time Lovin'
6. I've Never Found A Girl (Who Loves Me Like You Do) [Eddie Floyd cover] – Side 2
7. How Can You Mend A Broken Heart [Bee Gees cover]
8. Judy
9. It Ain't No Fun To Me
Tracks 1 to 9 are his 4th album "Let's Stay Together" – released January 1972 in the USA on Hi Records SH-32070 and March 1972 in the UK on London SHU-8430.

The UK LP had 11 tracks compared to the US tally of 9 and they were not just rejiggered but featured songs not on this box set:
1. Let's Stay Together [1]
2. I've Never Found A Girl [6]
3. So You're Leaving [3]
4. It Ain't No Fun To Me [9]
5. Talk To Me, Talk To Me
6. Old Time Lovin' [5]
7. Judy [8] – Side 2
8. What Is This Feeling [4]
9. Tomorrow's Dream
10. How Can You Mend A Broken Heart [7]
11. La-La For You [2]
Notes: the two missing tracks "Talk To Me..." and "Tomorrow's Dream" are on the "Green Is Blues" CD reissue mentioned in the Notes for Disc 1. 

Disc 3 "I'm Still In Love With You" (35:30 minutes):
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 [Roy Orbison cover] – Side 2
7. For The Good Times [Kris Kristofferson cover]
8. Look What You've Done For Me
9. One Of These Good Old Days
Tracks 1to 9 are his 5th album "I'm Still In Love With You" – released October 1972 in the USA on Hi Records SHL 32074 and December 1972 in the UK on London SHU-8443 (both US and UK LPs had the same track configuration)

Disc 4 "Call Me" (35:32 minutes):
1. Call Me (Come Back Home)
2. Have You Been Making Out OK
3. Stand Up
4. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry [Hank Williams cover]
5. Your Love Is Like The Morning Sun
6. Here I Am (Come And Take Me) – Side 2
7. Funny How Time Slips Away [Willie Nelson cover]
8. You Ought To Be With Me
9. Jesus Is Waiting
Tracks 1 to 9 are his 6th album "Call Me" – released April 1973 in the USA on Hi Records XSHL 32077 and October 1973 in the UK on London SHU 8457 (both US and UK LPs had the same track configuration)

Disc 5 "The Belle Album" (39:22 minutes):
1. Belle
2. Loving You
3. Feels Like Summer
4. Georgia Boy
5. I Feel Good – Side 2
6. All 'n' All
7. Chariots Of Fire
8. Dream
Tracks 1 to 8 are his 12th album "The Belle Album" – released December 1977 in the USA on Hi Records HLP 6004 but delayed in the UK until September 1979 on Pye/Hi Records HLP 6004 (both US and UK LPs had the same track configuration)

Thinking about it - if you were to program a 'mini' Greatest Hits for Al Green or just wanted to know how good he really was back in the day – simply chuck the entire "...Gets Next To You" album from 1971 onto a CD and be done with it. What a winner this Long Player is. Apart from the obvious monster hits like his own "Tired Of Being Alone" (superlative remaster, brass, guitar and backing singers all clear and present) and "I Can't Get Next To You" (a cover of a Temptations No. 1 from 1969 written by Barrett Strong & Norman Whitfield) – there's the album nuggets like the pure Al Green-boogie of "I'm A Ram" (co-written with guitarist Mabon Hodges) or his brilliant take on "Driving Wheel" by Roosevelt "The Honeydripper" Sykes. Hell even his Soulful cover of "Light My Fire" by The Doors works. And how lovely is Johnnie Taylor's "God Is Standing By" – a holy song that manages to be just that and not cloying schlock. And his run of three originals finishing Side 2 – "You Say It", "Right Now, Right Now" and "All Because" – artfully produced by his long-time musical partner Willie Mitchell and brill - the whole damn lot of it...

Legend has it that Willie Mitchell brought in a bunch of whinos that used to hang outside the recording studio making them Al's impromptu audience as he sang the brilliant "Let's Stay Together" (apparently if you listen closely in the centre passage you can hear the clink of bottles and the shuffle of bodies swaying to the beat). And his cover of The Bee Gees weepy "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?" is masterful stuff – genuinely moving. Other album nuggets include Green's own "Old Time Lovin'" which Boz Scaggs did a wicked cover version of on his 1972 Columbia album "My Time" – and his happy take on Eddie Floyd's Stax hit "I've Never Found A Girl" lays down a groove that is just so damn irresistible...

The production values seem to go through the roof for the second LP from 1972 – "I'm Still In Love With You" – here in fabulous Audio. Dig that guitar and hooky organ intro to "Love And Happiness" – the album version stretching to 5:07 minutes. Even now that groove gear he gets into about two minutes in still slays me – the guitar – the brass jabs and the girls - truly fabulous Seventies Soul. And similar to the superb "Call Me" album that followed – ballads like "What A Wonderful Thing Love Is" just sort of turn up and wheedle their way into your heart. The only slightly clunky moment on "I'm Still In Love With You" comes with his awkward cover of Roy Orbison's classic "Oh, Pretty Woman" – a 60ts sound so engrained in our consciousness that no amount of updating in any genre does it justice. Things get better with Kris Kristofferson's wistful "For The Good Times" where Green makes you feel the ache - and even that it was his song all along.

Released in May 1973 in the USA (November in the UK) – the sheer class of the "Call Me" album has always been something of an unknown classic - truth be told. Deep Soul circles revere it as much as say Marvin's "Let's Get It On" from that same year or even Stevie Wonder's "Innervisions" – and stunning smoochers like "Have You Been Making Out OK" don't date – only getting better as the years pass (the audio quality on this will floor you from the get go). London tried two 45s in Britain – "Call Me (Come Back Home)" b/w "What A Wonderful Thing Love Is" on London HLU 10406 in February 1973 and "Here I Am (Come And Take Me)" b/w "I'm Glad You're Mind" on London HLU 10426 in July 1973 – but despite the strength of all four sides – amazingly the normally Soul-savvy British public didn't chart either. Again Green takes two giant names from another arena of music – Country stars you'd never associate with Soul and does covers that covert each – "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" for Hank Williams and "Funny How Time Slips Away" for Willie Nelson. And surely the groove in "Here I Am (Come And Take Me)" is his best ever. "Jesus Is Waiting" – the lovely and heartfelt album finisher gives yet another nod towards his secular beliefs that would eventually take over his music and life entirely.

You could argue that it’s a sneaky choice not including one of the five albums that naturally followed after 1973's "Call Me" as Disc No. 5 – "Livin' For You" and "Al Green Explores Your Mind" (both 1974), "Al Green Is Love" (1975), "Full Of Fire" and "Have A Good Time" (both 1976) – instead giving us the largely forgotten LP "The Belle Album" from late 1977. But I'd argue that despite its weakness - it still has its moments. Moving away from his long-time association with Willie Mitchell – Green wrote all the songs and co-produced with Rueben Fairfax, Jr (the album is dedicated to his father). "...Belle..." is still deeply Soulful in style as an album but of course has religion in tracks like "Loving You" which has Al thanking the Lord for his children and the light in his life ("...switched on something inside my head..."). The seven-minute Side 1 finisher "Georgia Boy" is deeply Funky too – a nice builder with a killer Bass Line throughout and an unusual vocal from Green. The extraordinarily delicate high falsetto on "Dream" is so pretty too as the tune swirls to its seven and a half minute end in a sort of infectious daze...

Despite the slight let up on quality for Disc 5 – 2016's "The Essential Albums Collection" by AL GREEN offers more than enough proof of his genius and why he’s held in such affection to this day. Let's Stay Together...Amen To That Baby...

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is SOUL, FUNK & JAZZ FUSION - an E-Book with over 240 entries and 2100 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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