Al Green

Lay It Down (Blue Note)

It might seem like the product of a focus group, but Lay It Down stands as Al Green's most organic album in decades. Produced by Roots drummer ?uestlove, the album pairs the veteran soul singer with such latter-day old-schoolers as Anthony Hamilton, John Legend, and Corinne Bailey Rae. And it's a layered, subtle record celebrating patience, persistence, and, of course, love. "Take Your Time" — a slow jam with the sensuous Bailey Rae — features Green at his most secular and sexy, while "Stay with Me (by the Sea)," his turn with Legend, is so seamless, you can't tell where one voice ends and the other begins. The sound is classic soul, with fatback drumming and wiry guitar. But the album is also stylishly updated with strings, horns, and choruses to snare listeners who think R&B began with Amy Winehouse and the Dap-Kings, whose horns are part of the album's funky mix. While the duets may get top billing, Green's solo forays into yearning ("All I Need") and lust ("I'm Wild About You") may be even more compelling. The midtempo groove animating most of these tunes threatens repetitiveness, but they default to urgency, making Lay It Down satisfyingly dramatic.

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