Greatest Hits: The Best Of Al Green

Al Green

Hi Records / Fat Possum Records, 2014

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Asking how much Al Green is enough is like asking how much water or air is enough… there’s no real answer, you just know you need it to survive. Still, the question does eventually come up when presented with a double album of the Reverend Green’s finest work, 42 songs spread over two very full CDs.

One of the finest soul singers of his generation, Al Green and his chief early collaborator Willie Mitchell set their sights on the space between popular soul music and Green’s own gospel roots and took it over like an occupying force, populating Green’s early ’70s records with subtle, sensuous grooves punctuated by pulsing horns and soaring strings that increased rather than released the tension in the music. Green himself veered between a come-hither croon and one of the most remarkable falsettos in pop music history, sending notes flying into the stratosphere at critical junctures in song after song. 

Beyond those foundational elements, the real secret to the genius of Al Green is desire. Through the 42 tracks found here you never once hear Green lay back and take it easy; whether it’s a grooving jam or a gentle ballad, he invests himself completely in every song, performing it like it’s the most important, meaningful lyric he’s ever sung. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The familiar self-penned early ’70s radio hits are all here, bubbling with emotion: “Let’s Stay Together,” “Tired Of Being Alone,” “Take Me To The River,” “Love And Happiness,” “Look What You Done for Me,” “I’m Still in Love With You,” “Call Me,” “Here I Am,” and “Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy).” Every one oozes charisma and lives deep in the earthy grooves that Green and Mitchell crafted together.

For those who care to dig deeper, though, this set offers abundant riches. In addition to his own fine songwriting—often in collaboration with Mitchell and/or drummer Al Jackson Jr. and/or guitarist Mabon Hodges—Green delivered a raft of imaginative, memorable covers in his heyday, from the Temptations (slowing down the tempo on classic ’60s soul scribes Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s “I Can’t Get Next To You” while dialing up the tension) to early Bee Gees (“How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?”) to The Doors (an admittedly odd but interesting cover of “Light My Fire”) and Hank Williams (a heartfelt rendition of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”). In every case, Green reimagines the song and makes it his own, infusing each with his own cool intensity.

The serious fan needs the complete original run of albums that this set draws from, but for the more casual fan, this generous double-disc set offers a thorough and often dazzling introduction to Green’s distinctively sensual brand of soul. While a few cuts here feel less than essential, it remains a terrific overview of Green’s early catalog.

Seven years into an amazing run on the charts, Al Green found religion and became a pastor, increasingly turning away from secular music and back toward his gospel roots. He has continued recording sporadically through the years while focusing most of his efforts on his ministry. The voice, though—the voice has always been there waiting. It’s a voice for the ages, smooth and sultry and full of the kind of soul that can’t be faked or fashioned—it simply is.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2017 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Hi Records / Fat Possum Records, and is used for informational purposes only.