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In 2006, soul legend Al Green met with Roots drummer Amir "?uestlove" Thompson and famed hip-hop and R&B producer James Poyser at New York's Electric Ladyland Studio to talk about collaborating on an album. But instead of talking, they ended up writing eight songs in one night.
"We just wanted to get together and see if we clicked at all and had any vibe to do anything," Green says. "We were supposed to be getting together to meet one another, and we wrote eight songs. So I said, 'That vibe must be pretty strong.' I went back to the hotel, and I was drained. But trying to write eight songs in one night can be a mamma jamma, ya know."
Over the next two years, they wrote a few more cuts, reinforced most of them with strings and the Dap-Kings Horns and recruited singers John Legend, Corinne Bailey Rae and Anthony Alexander for what would become Green's best album in recent years, Lay It Down. Thompson and Poyser helped take the record, which was released in May on the Blue Note imprint, back to Green's classic early-'70s albums.
"It was just like it should be," Green says about working with the pair. "They was gonna play all this hip music and all this fancy stuff. And the more they worked on that stuff and the more they tried to fit it to Al, the more it sounded like Al Green in 1973. And that's exactly what you got out there: You got an Al Green cut that sounds like the 1973 stuff — 'You Ought to Be With Me,' 'Look What You Done for Me' — all that stuff. It sounds like that; it's just cut in 2008. So when they got done playing their hip stuff and everything, the only thing that would fit was the stuff that Al Jackson and Willie Mitchell and them was playing from the beginning."
Jackson and Mitchell collaborated with Green on a number of hits from the '70s, including "Let's Stay Together," which Green said he wrote with Mitchell in about twelve minutes. "It was just another song. We'd put down a year's worth of songs, so to me it was just another song. We went over to London for 28 days before it came out, and when we came back over here to America, all these women were jumping on stage and hugging ya and rubbing up against you real close. And the people had to tell me backstage, 'They love you.' I said, 'Why?' 'Your new song that's out — "Let's Stay Together.'" I said, 'It's out?' 'Yeah, it came out two weeks ago over here in the States.' I said, 'Oh, really?' Women were running all over the place, and I'm going, like, 'Oh, man. Okay, then.'"
More than three decades later, Green is still singing about something he knows a lot about: L-O-V-E. And there's a lot of it on Lay It Down.
"Ain't no doubt," Green says. "Lay it down. Let it go. Fall in love. That's what it's about."
Visit Backbeat Online/ for more of our interview with Al Green.