I’d wager that if you were born between the years 1971 and 1977, Al Green had a hand in it. Literally? No. But at some point between your pops’ slow-dance clutch and your mama’s bedroom eyes, just before your moment of carnal conception, chances are Green’s coaxing lilt helped seal the deal. Don’t believe me? Ask the porter. See, Al Green is love, and not just because he had an album that said so. Simply consult anything he did back then, from “Tired of Being Alone” to “I’m Still in Love With You” to “Let’s Stay Together,” for unforgettable lessons in what love’s got to do with it. And though the soul icon bought a church, became a reverend, and disappeared from the secular pop world for nearly three decades, Al Green, the lover and the preacher, is back. Which means love is back. Just in time for mating season.
I’ve seen nonagenarians cry from a broken heart, so I’m the last person to dismiss the smooth moves of an elder. Now 62, the mighty reverend may not be able to make you spontaneously combust like yesteryear, but damn if he can’t still get you in the mood with his third batch of love songs for Blue Note. Lay It Down might not top the charts, but it’s perfect between the sheets, this time enlisting a younger, hip-hop-steeped production team of Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, James Poyser, and Rich Nichols, who in turn summon the Dap-King horns, add strings from MFSB vet Larry Gold, and sprinkle in solid vocal cameos from Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend, and Anthony Hamilton. There are no cut corners in the resulting Memphis-Philly-NYC love triangle: The opener and title track sets a deeply soulful, spiritual tone that pervades the entire album, and the Reverend Green’s still-gilded voice is full of exuberance and laughter throughout, stirred by the late Chalmers “Spanky” Alford’s guitar licks and Poyser’s Hammond-organ chops. But what truly sells Lay It Down for me occurs at the 3:40 mark of the mid-tempo “No One Like You,” the band locking in and chugging along like a funky Memphis train, the legendary Hi Records rhythm section passengers in spirit, smiling down at all those babies yet to be made.