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Al Green - Anthology
(The Right Stuff/Hi Records)

When it comes down to it, all anyone really needs to know about the music of Al Green is what my friend Slim once said about it: "If you donít like this, youíve got a fucking problem." If you knew Slim, youíd know he doesnít lie. And while Slimís a kind soul, heís not generally one to offer unwarranted praise.

Of course, no praise of one of the finest voices to grace popular music would be the slightest bit undeserved. Al Green found a groove around 1971 that lasted a good seven years or so, during which he fused the worlds of Motown and Stax/Volt into a Memphis soul hybrid crafted by producer Willie Mitchell that perfectly complimented Greenís delicate yet powerful voice. That singular voice is the reason for this collection which concentrates on Greenís peak years during his decade of artistic brilliance.

Well, that and the resurgence of the artistís career in the mid-í90s spurred by his first album of secular music in fifteen years, a Grammy for his duet with Lyle Lovett, and of course Pulp Fiction. If there need be an occasion to gather the finest work of the incomparable Al Green onto a set such as this one, then so be it. His catalog was long unavailable on CD, and it was a long time before a decent hits compilation was released domestically. The four-disc box treatment was the next logical step.

Just to get it out of the way and not leave a bad taste in anyoneís mouth, the disappointing news must be aired first.

Complaint number one: the sin of greed. Whereas brevity is often the key to making a great album (Jonny Polonsky, please step to the head of the class), it is decidedly not a virtue among compilations, which are held to different asthetic standards and ought to provide top value for the dollar. These four discs ought to house the solid 300 minutes of music they are capable of containing, but fall more than an hour short of that number. Indeed, the material here could have just about been squeezed onto three discs, thereby saving consumers at least an Alexander Hamilton. Hmmph.

Complaint number two: the sin of omission. Provided this set just had to be four discs in length, the wasted 70 minutes of blank space ought to have been filled with necessities such as the #3 R&B hit "Letís Get Married," the original hit version of the R&B #1 "You Ought To Be With Me" (a live take is included), and his sublime version of "To Sir With Love" (#71 R&B if youíre keeping score at home, and you know that you are). Again, hmmph.

Now, quit all the complaining, because if thereís a better way to spend close to four hours than by listening to the Al Green Anthology, then Iím buying stock in it. Itís almost a waste of time to even try to describe how Al Greenís voice can move the human heart; it simply must be heard to be believed, to be comprehended, to be felt. It is a voice with the power to persuade. As the line from his own "Love And Happiness" says, itís "something that can make you do wrong, make you do right." Hits like "Tired Of Being Alone," "Take Me To The River," and "Full Of Fire" donít sound tired at all, and "Letís Stay Together" wouldnít either were it not for Mr. Tarantino. Oh well. Give Quentin special props for baptizing a new generation in soul.

This box chronicles Greenís peak years in the í70s up through the very beginnings of the gospel phase of his career. A song like "Belle" transcends its inherent religious nature and can be appreciated as a simple song of devotion. As Christianity took hold and guided the direction of the singerís career, the songs grew less accessable to those who did not share similar devotion; the only recordings from this period on the Anthology are live versions from 1981ís TokyoÖLive and the 1984 film Gospel According To Al Green.

YEAH YEAH YEAH, 1997