The Definitive Greatest Hits
First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2007, Volume 14, #2
Written by John Metzger
Not that there was anything wrong with its first two incarnations, but in the case of Al Greenís Greatest Hits, the third timeís the charm. Although the decade-old, four-disc box set Anthology still provides the most comprehensive overview of the ever-present battle among all things spiritual and sensual that raged within Greenís work, those looking for a package that is considerably more focused ought to give the latest edition of Greatest Hits a whirl. Building upon the 1995 reissue of Greenís retrospective collection, the latest outing, which rightfully has been re-christened as The Definitive Greatest Hits, is a career-spanning affair that contains 21 magnificent cuts, ranging from his 1968 single Back Up Train to a pair of more recent tracks (I Canít Stop and Perfect to Me). Nearly all of it was recorded with ace producer Willie Mitchell, and together, the duo learned how to keep the material vibrant, lustrous, and alive, while forsaking the schmaltzy effects that increasingly clung to soul music as the í70s progressed.
Born in Forest City, Arkansas in April 1946, Green gravitated to music at a young age, singing gospel with his family in The Green Brothers before his father tossed him from the outfit for listening to a Jackie Wilson album. Teaming with some high school friends, Green scored an early hit when Back Up Train climbed to number five on the R&B chart in 1968. It was with producer Willie Mitchell, however, that he not only found his distinctive flair but also created the most indelible music of his career. Green filled a void that was created by Otis Reddingís passing, just as Redding had jumped into the fray when Sam Cooke died, and Greenís dramatic, gospel-tinged vocals played perfectly against the backdrop of organic grooves that Mitchell concocted from a fusion of blues, rock, and soul influences. Framed by the horns and strings that alternately punctuated and supported the materialís emotional content, Greenís pliable voice rose and fell as he sang his songs of love, devotion, and yearning. By the time that he released Gets Next to You in 1971, he and Mitchell had developed an extraordinary working relationship. The albumís lead single Tired of Being Alone as well as the title track from his follow-up endeavor Letís Stay Together continue to stand as Greenís finest recordings. Arguably, he never was able to surpass these songs, but all things considered, they were so astoundingly perfect that such a feat would be nearly impossible to achieve.
That, however, is not meant to take anything away from the rest of Greenís pursuits. As The Definitive Greatest Hits makes clear, he and Mitchell seemingly drew from a never-ending fountain of inspiration. Whether testifying to the funky refrains of Take Me to the River; settling into the syncopated, rhythmic pulse of Love and Happiness; purring his way through the silky sweetness of Iím Still in Love with You; or searching for salvation on L-O-V-E (Love), Green merged Memphisí grit with Phillyís smoothness to develop a soulful style that was all his own. Oft-imitated but rarely outdone, Al Greenís ascendancy was rapid, and given his return to form on his most recent endeavor Everythingís OK, itís obvious that his legendary story still is being written.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box