WINDY CITY TIMES
Al Green at the House of Blues, April 12
by Vern Hester
This article shared 1000 times since Wed Apr 30, 2003
With the luxury of hindsight Al Green is probably the last true soul man. His first smash, 'I Can't Get Next to You' hit the Top 10 in 1971, 10 years after Sam Cooke's death and a mere four after Otis Redding's. There were any number of soul men in the '70s to fill the vacuum (most notably Teddy Pendergrass) but Green sticks out because he stayed focused on romantic love and created a sound that was both silken and sexual. The hits ('I'm Still in Love with You,' 'Tired of being Alone,' 'Call Me') were irresistible because Green, both thematically (romantic love over sex) and musically (a smooth deep groove that embraced the languor of lounge but avoided the overt percussion of disco) latched onto, with the help of co-producer Willie Mitchell, a formula that slyly moved soul into a different territory. A touch of R & B with an equal part pop put Green ahead of also-rans like Barry White (discofied, vocally limited, and monotonous), Marvin Gaye (who abandoned love songs for social issues and blunt sex), and Pendergrass (sex with a chest-beating fury). But where Gaye will always be revered for his timeliness, Green through the distance of time looks quaint.
But not quite. Hearing Green's Greatest Hits I and II is a reminder of how true soul was meant to sound, making the recent neo-soul sound gimmicky. Green's best was both personable and sincere and everything in his productions pointed to that. Where White was strictly about a come on, Green was far too genuine. By the time he'd recorded 'Let's Get Married' I assumed he'd been singing to the same woman for years.
Like all great soul men, Green's relationship to love was tempered by religion. So ingrained as a bedrock through Black history (its undeniable that gospel music is what got Blacks out of slavery and through the civil-rights movement), all true soul singers kept that door open and it influenced their pop recordings. The relationship between the spiritual and the flesh varies from artist to artist (by extremes some of Aretha Franklin's best recordings are traditional church concerts while some of Prince's go beyond blasphemy), but Green's take was merely suggestive in his approach. His records may have sounded sexy as all get-out, but he was always respectful of his woman and he knew the proper place for love and sex. On tracks like 'Love and Happiness' and 'Let's Stay Together' no one made long-term monogamy sound so ... nice.
By 1973 he was as big as Gaye or White but then came the bizarre 'hot grits' incident where he was burned by a homicidal fan. Green, like Richard and Pendergrass, found religion. He's now a bona-fide preacher who heads his own church and hasn't released a pop album in over a decade, choosing to tour at his whim. Ironically, as evidenced by his two SRO stands at the House of Blues on April 12 and 13, the distance has made him more of a genuine soul man.
More Vegas than tent revival, Green's show was designed to please, almost to the point of pandering. Resplendent in a white-on-white suit, he shucked and jived throughout the set while handing out an endless supply of long-stemmed red roses. Opening the show with a pumped up 'Let's Get Married,' Green never lost sight of what he was doing there. 'I Can't Get Next to You' was staccato funk without the cush while 'Let's Stay Together' and 'Call Me' benefited from a live percussive assault. It kept getting better. 'Take Me to the River' with its double edge of love/betrayal steeped in religious ideology reached a disturbing climax of despair. Through Green's version it was obvious that Bryan Ferry and Talking Heads didn't really get what 'River' was about. Green veered into religion only once, dedicating 'Amazing Grace' to the servicemen overseas. That he got the liquored-up crowd to sing with him says something in itself.
But 'Love and Happiness' was the perfect closer to not only the show but Green's persona. That line about someone on the phone at 3 a.m. saying, ' ... they can make it right,' cuts to the heart. Wrapped in what sounds like a humongous Hammond organ, 'Love and Happiness' is a blissful groove. 'Love'll make ya do right/Love'll make ya do wrong' ... even God would have to smile.
This article shared 1000 times since Wed Apr 30, 2003
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