SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
Al Green – Al Green Explores Your Mind – Hi Records (1974)/Pure Pleasure (vinyl)
Published on October 26, 2012
Al Green – Al Green Explores Your Mind – Hi Records (1974)/Pure Pleasure Records (2012) SHL32087 180-gram audiophile stereo vinyl, 29:19 ****:
(Al Green – vocals; Wayne Jackson – trumpet; Andrew Love – tenor saxophone; Ed Logan – tenor saxophone; James Mitchell – baritone saxophone; Jack Hale – trombone; Howard Grimes – drums, percussion; Leroy Hodges – bass; Charles Hodges – keyboards; Mabon “Teenie” Hodges – guitar; Archie Turner – piano; Michael Allen – piano; Rhodes, Chalmers & Rhodes – backing vocals; with The Memphis Strings; James Mitchell – string arrangements)
Al Green is an icon of soul vocalists. Like Jackie Wilson, James Brown and Sam Cooke, he was able to incorporate gospel and r&b into accessible music. His warm vocals and horn accompaniment became one of the calling cards for the seventies “Memphis Sound”. The collaboration with producer/engineer Willie Mitchell created unforgettable albums including Green Is Blues, Al Green gets Next To You and Let’s Stay Together. The latter’s title track became a trademark for Green and remains one of the greatest soul numbers of all time.
He became Reverend Al Green (of Full Gospel Tabernacle) in 1976 and devoted over a decade to gospel music. In 1988, he recorded a duet of “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” with Annie Lennox that was used in the movie Scrooged. This signaled a limited return to popular music. However, his passion still resides in his role as church pastor. Among his many accolades, Al Green was inducted into The Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame (2004), and The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame (2005).
Pure Pleasure Records has re-mastered Al Green Explores Your Mind to 180-gram vinyl, and the reissue is brilliant. Nine original compositions highlight the songwriting and vibrant performance of a quintessential r&b legend. It is evident from the opening notes of “Sha-La-La (Makes Me Happy)” that the record was engineered to frame the Memphis-style arrangements around the silky, upper-register vocals of Green. As the strings (Memphis String Section) and horns are joined with lush backup vocals (Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes), a simple love song becomes soul artistry. Green is able to slip into falsetto with complete ease. It is a curiosity that “Take Me To The River” was never a huge success (although it did jump-start Talking Heads’ career). This version has a Delta-swamp vibe with warm, funky hooks and grooves, without doubt the definitive version.
While Green was still a practitioner of secular music, there is gospel nuance in a lot of the arrangements. In the case of “God Bless Our Love” a slower, laid back, Sunday feel is illuminated by this vocalist and his backup singers. Also, a detectable shade of ‘50s rock can be felt here, as well as the melancholic “School Days”. But the energy is at its finest on joyful soul numbers like “One Nite Stand” and “I’m Hooked On You”. Green is an excellent songwriter and combines with producer, Willie Mitchell to create accessible, rhythmic songs. His topical narrative appears on “The City”, which has a funky guitar chord presence that defines seventies r&b (not unlike Curtis Mayfield).
Pure Pleasure has done a masterful job in re-mastering this session to audiophile vinyl. Green’s smooth tones have a rich texture, even in falsetto. The strings and horn volume levels are just right, never becoming too dense. At less than thirty minutes, the album flows with grace and precision. Al Green Explores Your Mind is soulful bliss!
Side One: Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy); Take Me To The River; God Blessed Our Love; The City; One Nite Stand
Side Two: I’m Hooked On You; Stay With Me Forever; Hangin’ On; School