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Reverend Al lays down a
soulful return-to-form effort

Al Green - Lay It Down
(Blue Note Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Aug. 15, 2008
Al Green

Review by Tony Bonyata

Al Green may have left the sounds of his soulful, sexy R&B music behind him when he found religion back in the late '70s (when he began his decade-and-a-half foray into non-secular music as well as taking up residency as pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis), but on his latest full-length effort, Lay It Down, the good Reverend once again returns to his R&B roots for an album that touches on many of the highlights from his monumental work in the early '70s with Hi Records and its producer/owner Willie Mitchell.

While this isn't Green's first foray back into his own secular musical past (his first was 2003's I Can't Stop followed up two years later with Everything's OK), Lay It Down not only marks the first time since 1975 that he's cracked the Billboard Top Forty chart, but it's also only the fourth album of his career to break into the Top Ten (joining his classic records Let's Stay Together, I'm Still In Love With You and Call Me). And with Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of The Roots and James Poyser helming the production of the record, along with a little help from younger R&B talents such as Anthony Hamilton, Corinne Bailey Rae and John Legend, it's no wonder it's such a hit.

The horn-infused arrangements that effortlessly slip from sensual slow-jams ("Take Your Time," "Too Much" and "Just For Me") to swaying funk ("I'm Wild About You") to his more signature R&B sounds ("Standing In The Rain," "Stay With Me (By The Sea)" and "No One Like You") give a nod to Green's early roots, while ?uestlove and Poyser carefully avoid injecting any their own hip-hop influences into the production. Instead they meticulously recreate Green's own familiar winning formula of energetic horns, polished keys, infectious rhythms and, of course, Al's own silky smooth vocals that shine as strong as ever on this fine and soulful return-to-form effort.

Watch Death Al Green "Lay It Down" video

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