Lay It Down

It’s easy to dismiss the efforts of older musicians to make new records in the style of their classics—the resulting music all is all too often nostalgia-drenched and artistically desperate. On the other hand, many other musicians stumble when trying to avoid a return to form: by self-consciously adopting more contemporary styles and sounds, old hands often come off as pandering and insincere, flailing about cluelessly in an attempt to recapture the vanished energy and cultural relevance of their musical youth.

With Lay It Down, soul great Al Green has chosen the former path: under the able direction of producers Amir “?uestlove” Thompson and James Poyser (of the Roots; they’re aided here by the horn section from the fabulous soul revivalists the Dap-Kings), Lay It Down captures the feel of early seventies Green masterpieces (like Let’s Stay Together and I’m Still In Love with You) without descending into one-dimensional imitation. And it works beautifully—Green’s voice has aged, but he can still break into his familiar falsetto with feeling, and he remains a deft and compelling songwriter.

The album opens with its title track, which effectively sets the tone: there’s a simple guitar riff, tight but minimal percussion, melodic bass, and a soft, gorgeous organ to fill out the arrangement, and then over all of it Green huskily calls for his lover to lay down for him. And there’s never any doubt that she’ll agree: Green’s songs often invoke desire, but they also typically deliver fulfillment and satisfaction. Even back in the early 70s, Green’s tunes relied neither the adolescent swagger and aggression of rock nor the pining, unfulfilled longing of soul balladry: instead, Green’s great theme is the joy of grown-up love and sex. His classic tunes are along the lines of “Let’s Stay Together” and “I’m Still in Love With You,” celebrations of the deep-running pleasure of faithfulness, commitment, and mutual satisfaction. It’s little wonder, then, that a return-to-form record like Lay It Down succeeds: there’s nothing shameful or out of place about an Al Green singing with adult satisfaction and happiness today, even if the same feelings also animated his music when he was thirty-five years younger.

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