Inspired perhaps by the comebacks staged by other veteran soul singers like Solomon Burke and Mavis Staples, Al Green tries updating his signature sound with the aid of some contemporary co-stars. It’s hard to fault his choices; Corrine Bailey Rae and John Legend are, after all, among today’s ‘A-list’ artists, and singer Anthony Hamilton provides a perfect mesh with Green’s smooth croon.
Intentions notwithstanding, the new album makes few concessions to either hipness or hip-hop. Lay It Down goes quintessentially Green, from the fluid, shuffled rhythms that underscore “You’ve Got The Love I Need,” “What More Do You Want From Me” and “I’m Wild About You,” to the aching-but-effusive vocals that make “Lay It Down” and “Take Your Time” so soulfully sublime. Repetitive refrains underscore the majority of these tracks, and while they’re hardly as memorable as Green classics like, say, “Let’s Stay Together,” “Take Me To The River” and “Love and Happiness,” the template is still intact.
When much of what passes for R&B these days is simply bland, derivative or formula-fed, Green reminds us how a stirring voice and a singular presence can take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. With Lay It Down, the Reverend Al ups the ante with talent and tenacity. (www.bluenote.com)