Willie Mitchell, producer extraordinaire, does absolutely nothing different than he did all those years ago. The songs are a bit longer, but it’s not as if a No. 1 single is again in the cards. For this reason, I guarantee you that there will be no Rob Thomas or Sheryl Crow cameo in any of these songs. If you buy this album, you will get Al Green — no more, no less. Anyway, what more could you possibly need? If the formula produced some of the most incredible soul music ever, why tinker with mediocre pop stars just to sell a few more copies? Mitchell knows this, and in effect succeeds yet again. The horns cascade across strong melodies while the rhythm section, with Leroy Hodges on bass, propels the songs into blissful exuberance. Then there’s the voice —
Never has such a trademark voice possessed such versatility. Such a vocal chameleon is Al Green that he can howl like Ray Charles, croon like Sam Cooke, and just flat-out sing like Solomon Burke. Remember when artists used to sing, and sing well? Me neither. Let’s go over some of today’s singers who’ve received the “soul” moniker: Mary J. Blige — OK, she can sing; Macy Gray — she’s cute and writes great songs, but her voice is more distinctive than good; Pink — I just laughed when I typed that, because she’s become such a cartoon and thinks she’s rock these days. Honestly, I can’t think of any more. Well I probably could, but I don’t really want to waste my time. That’s not true either, by the way. It’s just that Al Green’s voice is so good that to compare him with anyone else would be pointless and tedious.
Green may be one of 10 singers in the world where the “sing the phonebook” cliche actually rings true. You can hardly imagine my elation when in “Raining in my Heart,” he hits us with a line like “No money, no diamonds/But we got love!” without a single nod to God. Gospel music is great and all, but soul refers not to the afterlife or human essence. It stems solely from the power of emotion, and the passion in Green’s voice could get Marlon Brando out of his hammock and make him sway (let’s face it, he ain’t doing the jitterbug these days).
I know everyone in the world has heard “Let’s Stay Together” because it really is one of the 20 best songs ever written, but you haven’t heard “Million to One” or “You” because they’re on this album. Needless to say, the magic from the former informs that of the latter songs. Even the band has some familiar faces, but the sound they make this time around seems a lot plumper and energetic than some of the older songs. This is no gospel album, but these songs reverberate as though they were sprung from the middle of a cathedral. “My love is an eternal one,” he sings on “Rainin’ in my Heart,” and judging by the album’s title, I hope we can expect more of the same in the near future, barring another Great Awakening.