Al Green - Let’s Stay Together - Review
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critics' view

Few artists have the effortless grace of Al Green. Born the son of a sharecropper and raised in the Baptist church, his voice is simply unmistakable. Economic, passion-filled and authentic, he can convey more emotion in a simple phrase than other singers, overworking and over- wringing, can strive for across their entire careers.

Let’s Stay Together, his fourth studio album, marked a high-watermark of Green’s collaboration with Hi Records and producer Willie Mitchell. Their paring is one of the greatest in soul music – they’ve left a body of work that is so identifiable that it’s up there with Holland-Dozier-Holland’s recordings with The Supremes or Jerry Wexler’s with Aretha Franklin.

The gospel-influenced title-track is one of the best-known love songs ever recorded. Perfectly yet not clinically played and sung very much from the heart, it’s as if every scrap of Green’s life and love depended upon it. A number one in the States and a sizeable hit over here, the song was later to revive Tina Turner’s career in 1983 – but her version is like cava to Green’s Moët. The zenith of Mitchell and Green’s partnership, it has all the trademarks of their relationship – close microphoned instruments, swooningly soulful brass performed by the Memphis Horns underpinned by Charles Hodges’ Hammond.

Few artists have exhibited such mastery of their material. On So You’re Leaving, when Green breaks into scat, the pathos is writ larger than, say, Marvin Gaye’s; you feel you are overhearing a man in desperation. However, amid all the self-penned material, it is a cover that comes and steals the show – How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, the 1971 Bee Gees hit, is turned into a tour de force, supported by astonishing musicianship. Green wrests every scrap of emotion out of the lyric, yet not once overdoes it. It is with good reason Q magazine described it as taking "the soul ballad to new levels of artistry and refinement".

Green left secular music at the height of his fame in the mid-70s to become a minister at the Full Tabernacle Church in Memphis, and has since returned to pop-soul sporadically, memorably turning in a spectacular Glastonbury Sunday afternoon performance in his white suit in 1999. Let’s Stay Together is a fabulous reminder of him at the apex of his career.

Daryl Easlea
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading. external-link.png

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