Al Green

Everything's all right

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By Michael Norman  

Al Green spent the better part of two decades trying to forget that he was an international pop star. During his amazing rise in the early 1970s, he created some of the most memorable soul crossover music of the pop era, classics like "Tired of Being Alone," "Let's Stay Together" and "Love and Happiness." But in 1976, Green walked away from it all, giving up pop in favor of gospel music. Within a few years, he was a Baptist minister with his own congregation at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, Tenn. For a while, it looked as if he had put his old life behind him for good.

Luckily for us, Green re-emerged with a flourish in the mid-1990s, in a comeback that began in early 1995 with his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Within a few months, he had won a Grammy Award for his duet with Lyle Lovett on Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away," and released a critically acclaimed pop-soul album called Your Heart's in Good Hands.

A decade later, Green is still going strong. His latest release, Everything's OK, is a spirited, engaging collection of romantic, Southern soul. It's classic Al Green in many respects - an easy-going blend of pop, R&B and gospel music served up in arrangements flavored by lots of horns and strings. This time, there's a special connection to Green's legacy. Everything's OK teams him once again with producer and arranger Willie Mitchell, and was recorded at Mitchell's Royal Recording Studio, the same spot where the two worked together on Green's earliest hits.

Everything's OK has a classic soul feel, but mixes in plenty of contemporary sounds and reference points. Green's voice is in top form, moving from a heavenly falsetto to a low gospel moan. The Royal Horns and the New Memphis Strings give the music a timeless, classic feel. Highlights include the smooth groovin' "Build Me Up," the swaying, romantic "Perfect to Me," and a soulful cover of "You Are So Beautiful."

Green may well be the last of the great male soul singers - a living link to the legacy of Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye. But don't mistake the 1970s soul legend for a golden oldie. He's still making sweet, relevant music in the 21st Century.

Michael Norman is Entertainment Editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.