Purchasing and consuming music is a funny business. Every time we turn on the radio, reach for an album on the shelf or go into a record shop, we are faced with a myriad choices that we almost immediately sift through, usually coming to a remarkably rapid decision. For me, when acquiring new music the rapidity of the decision hinges on three things – knowledge, ignorance and assumption. Direct knowledge is the quickest method – I know the album, or artist and am able to make a decision based on what I already know. It’s also, for me, the most boring approach to acquiring music and has often led to my most disappointing purchases. Hence my avoidance of Spotify. Too much knowledge dulls the initial thrill I feel as the needle inexorably spirals towards the first notes of album I have never heard before. But a little knowledge heightens the anticipation and so I usually read and listen to other’s points of view prior to looking for new music. If I am entirely ignorant, I will usually dismiss the album without a second thought. But often I make assumptions about a record or an artist or even an entire genre that has meant that numerous wonderful records have passed me by for many years before I have eventually given them a proper chance – The Smiths, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout to name but a few.
I have always loved the great soul singles of the late sixties and early seventies – O’Jays, Aretha, Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye – but I always assumed that (with the exception of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye) their albums would be full of lesser fare bar a few jewels, that had invariably become ubiquitous as singles anyway. So I pretty much avoided the genre because I have always wanted to own albums rather than compilations and I always thought that these albums would ultimately be disappointing due to the amount of second rate filler they would inevitably contain. But then Nick played Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul at record club. The consistently high quality of the music throughout that album made me reassess and, almost straight away, I was browsing sections of the record shop that I wouldn’t normally have considered going to. Soon I was excitedly clutching a copy of Al Green’s magnificent fifth album, rushing home whilst wondering what delights my needle would unearth once it began to work its magic.
Needless to say, I’m Still In Love With You is wonderful throughout – from the astonishing vocal gymnastics of the opening title track, through to the astonishing vocal gymnastics of the final track, One of These Good Old Days (featuring the legendary lyrics – ‘George Mitchell’s Minstrels, Elvis Presley, George Mitchell’s Minstrels, South Pacific, Elvis Presley, George Mitchell’s Minstrels, South Pacific’ etc etc ad infinitum….oh no, my mistake, that was Nick ‘researching’ his choice for the next meeting over the top of the last quarter of the record!). I find that when listened to in a room where ‘research’ is not being conducted, I’m Still In Love With You sounds even better!
But between start and finish Al Green traverses nine tracks of impeccable quality from the smouldering Love and Happiness, through the claustrophobic Simply Beautiful and his forlorn and yearning cover of Kris Kristofferson’s For The Good Times. Although some tracks stand out more than others, there really aren’t any duffers – a true ***** album in my book and a great first chapter on my journey into the treasure trove of 20th century soul music.
Rob listened: It seems sensible to accept that taste has to be subjective. Equally, there are some things which it seems sensible for us all to agree are undeniably fantastic. Here’s one of them. Listen to Al Green spin his voice out like a filament of blown glass and if you’re not ready to lie down and weep at the sheer beauty of the sound (or hey! stand up and cheer if you prefer! i’m open to new approaches), you’re from another planet.
Nick listened: I’m an asshole for shouting over this, even if it was educational shouting. Al Green is great; I only have a ‘best of’ rather than any studio albums. What I already knew of this was still magnificent, what I didn’t know already was very good on first exposure. His voice is like honey and gossamer at the same time. There’s not a lot else to say; it’s just a pleasure to listen to.
Graham listened: While most of the time his voice has healing powers, now and again I’m not totally overwhelmed. Booking my flight to Mars.