Widely hailed as a return to form for the soul legend, Al Green's latest offering Lay It Down comes out today on Blue Note Records. While much has been made of producer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, and guest artists John Legend, James Poyser, Corinne Bailey Rae, and Anthony Hamilton, the real story concerning this record is a stellar performance by Green.
Lay It Down is a slow burner. The title track opens the record, and sets the tone for the entire album. Green's pure vocals lay in a bed of strings, Dap-King horns, and delicate picking from late guitarist James "Spanky" Chalmers. Drummer, Thompson stays largely out of the way - letting his kick drum establish the feel and groove of the song.
Lay it Down succeeds in these subtle ways. Neither Green, nor any of the muscians feel the need to hit the listener over the head with their sound, singing, or playing. As always, that is the sign of true talent and maturity.
Although rare, some have criticized the production of the record as too reminicent of Willie Mitchell, Green's long-time collaborator and producer who worked on his last two records, Everything's OK and I Can't Stop. Taking nothing away from Mr. Mitchell, the production on Lay it Down captures the classic Green sound and feel absent on the last two Mitchell produced albums. The strong punch of the Thompson-lead rhythm section is all the updating Green needed. The sound is fresh, yet there is still just the right amount of dust in the grooves.
In a neo-soul world dominated by Winehouse and now Duffy, one can only hope that listeners pay homage to the true soul artist of our generation. Not only is Lay it Down one of the better releases of 2008, it is one of the better records of Green's career.