Tired of being alone
Old soul stars never lose their voice, just their edge. The collaborative spirit of Al Green is trying to prove that theory wrong, as Mark Edmundson finds out
It’s a sad fact that however unstoppable an ageing artist was at the top of their game, few can hope to make music that really matters in their golden years, save for reminding everyone they’re still alive. Al Green comes to Glasgow this fortnight and while his live show can’t fail to entertain, packed as it is with enduring classics like ‘Tired of Being Alone’ and ‘Let’s Stay Together’, some of the audience might be in for a surprise. Green plans to kick off proceedings with a couple of numbers from his new album ‘while people’s eyes are still open’ – and they’re classic Al. A leaf through the credits for Lay It Down, released in May of this year, and all becomes clear. Someone has been very savvy in their choice of bedfellows for the Reverend Green.
‘I met them in Trinidad. They were doing a couple of numbers on local TV, but I really don’t know how we came to work together. I was talking to a record exec – that might’ve been one way of getting it done’ laugh the heavenly pipes of Green when questioned about the vague circumstances leading him to share production duties with Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson – he of The Roots and Grammy award-winning everyman James Poyser fame.
‘We were talking about doing a duet album, and next thing I know I‘m in New York and Thompson was up there and all the people that was going to cut it, but we thought we’d better go and meet each other one day and see if the vibes were right for cutting and writing anything. I guess the vibes were right – we wrote eight songs in one day’.
The intelligent pairings didn’t end there. His new album sees the likes of John Legend cropping up alongside Corinne Bailey Rae, Anthony Hamilton and The Dap-Kings (New York’s Daptone label house band of Sharon Jones fame and chief contributors to Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black sound). Perhaps most importantly however, these artists weren’t simply turning up to put their name to Al Green’s latest album – everyone’s talents have been exploited to the full. ‘There weren’t any big Is and little Us in there’ explains Green of the studio dynamic. ‘I’m in the middle of a flow. On the flow with all these sheets of paper scattered a hundred miles around and everybody’s circling these little bits of paper coming up with these licks, and how the bridge should go like this’.
The fruits of their labour compare favourably with the chart-toppers carved out with arranger, engineer and producer Willie Mitchell in Al’s smooth, sensual heyday. ‘I think Lay It Down belongs up there among the gold and platinum records I’m looking at right here on the wall’ Green enthuses, ‘I think it belongs right in the midst because that’s Al. The guys tried to play it as hip hop as they could because they play with The Roots band, and Corinne is a modern girl and so is John Legend. But the more they tried to play it hip hop, the more it sounded 1973 Al and Willie. But when they heard it they said “yeah”. That was good enough for me, because if it sounds good to them, it sounds like home to me’.
Al Green plays Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow, Thu 30 Oct.