Thursday, May 2, 2013

AL GREEN, Love Ritual
Melody Maker June 3rd 1989

By Simon Reynolds

Dry details first: Love Ritual consists of rare and previously unreleased Al Green material from between 1968 to 1976 (his creative prime) including a “Love Ritual” remixed even swampier and glutinously funky than before, and tracks like “Up Above My Head,” “So Good To Be Here” and “Strong As Death (Sweet As Love)” which are right up there with more reknowned peaks like “How Do You Mend A Broken Heart” and “I’m Still In Love With You.”

Okay, now let’s get moist. Why is it still possible to melt for this man after a decade in which so much odious charlatanry has been promoted and prattled in the name of Soul? Al Green is the man who took all the things that usually make for MOR tedium in music--constancy, fidelity, permanence, trust, security--and made them seem like heaven-on-earth, a consummation devoutly to be wished. His voice--an androgynous purr, a svelte, silvered, sinuous swoon--is the sound of someone expiring for love. “Mimi” has the beautiful line “Hope that I die before you”, but if you twist the sense of that plea around you reach an important truth: die is just what Al Green does, slowly, right in front of our dazzled ears.

Hollering, exhibitionist feats of “prowess” weren’t his way. Instead his voice dances at close quarters, entwines and enfolds you in a blurry, slurred intimacy, a carnal cave of tenderness and devotion. He’s catfooted where other soul giants growl like a bear with heartburn. He woos where others breastbeat. The closest he gets to the hoarse histrionics of your Reddings or Browns are little voluptuous geysers of emotion that escape every so often. His ensemble of players---Howard Grimms and Al Jackson on drums, the Hodges brothers on guitar and bass--frame him in a chrysalis of sound as luscious and lambent as honeycomb.

They don’t make records like this anymore, the state-of-the-art won’t allow it. Black American pop now dubs itself euphemistically as “Urban Contemporary” (soul as the soundtrack to slick courtship) or “Quiet Storm” (soul as a soothing Radox bath). And this decade has seen the beige deluge of acts like Wet Wet Wet (who went to Memphis to try and learn Green’’s secrets from his producer Willie Mitchell), their clumsy veneration making soul an almost completely unviable proposition for the future. But that’s no reason to miss out on the unrepeatable treasure of Green’s music, the long-lost languor and sheer diabetic OD that he shared with contemporaties like The Temptations, Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye. Go get wrapped up in love.

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