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Mark Blakemore (13.03.2001)
I think this is my favourite Al Green album and
his most defining - even though most critics seem to favour Call Me
as his most consistent and important work.
I'm Still In Love was his fourth album under Willie Mitchell's guidance who had spotted the Detroit based singer sveral years earlier. His first three albums on Hi records were also excellent and probably more diverse. These early albums don't define the Al Green sound as the material and approach are well performed but are essentially generic late sixties 'Stax-influenced' soul. There are a lot more uptempo numbers on these earlier albums and Green sings with a lot more visceral power - apeing to some extent, the rougher country-soul style of Otis Redding. It's conceivable I suppose that Mitchell was trying to fill the void left by Otis Redding's death.
The turning point for Green was Mitchell's vision of a softer etheral sound - probably influenced by the new Philly sounds and the work of the newly independent Marvin Gaye at Motown. He felt Green needed his own identity and crafted the new template with Let's Stay Together. He explicitly told Green to sing softly and the rest so they say is history.
The follow-up album was Still In Love With You and its quiet tender approach, maintained through a whole album was probably unheard of at that time in Black music...instantly appointing Green with a signature sound and a truly distinctive place in music. One could argue that it put him in a stylistic straight-jacket for the rest of his career - but when this soft, supple and tender music worked - as it did for atleast 3 years in the early seventies, Green was rewarded with plenty of gold discs and wide critical praise.
I think Still In Love is my favourite because it is mellow from start to finish and being a mood listener I hate it when I put a CD on for a reason - i.e. relax, only for a stomper to come in and ruin the mood. Thank good for CD's I suppose. I also feel that Green's vocalising is fresh and does'nt overwhelm the material on this set (It does two or three albums down the line - and the tunes are sometimes not strong enough to cope) - he's found his voice and the latent energy, pacing and enthusiasm in his singing is contagious. When stardom went to his head he was believed to ache over each mannered vocal line in order to attempt the perfect vocal - recording hundreds of takes. Obviously Hendrix wasn't the only musician who sometimes didn't know that the listener wouldn't be able to tell take 4 from 40.
So a key album and one of my fav's...I think UK buyers may still find it in a twofer with Call Me - all you may need from Al if you are casual fan.
Bill Slocum (15.05.2004)
The best three songs on I'm Still In Love With
You are the first three. The title track is emotionally lifting and
melodically gorgeous, while "I'm Glad You're Mine" is an ethereal
sleeper with very crafty organ fills that pull you in to its world of domestic
bliss. "Love And Happiness" is the one with the best beat on
this album, and Al singing like he's so overcome with emotion that he's
forgetting the lyrics. The female background singers and energetic rhythm
section and late-arriving horns blow this one out of the water. Calling
this formulaic soul misses the point, because no one had a formula like
this before Al came along. It's like James Brown meets Perry Como, and
it's damn cool.
But I see your point on the rest. It's sumptuous and very deep, but not very different-sounding. "What A Wonderful Thing Love Is" sets a groove that the rest of the songs that follow seem to blend into. Nice, but not the kind of stuff that jumps out. Even the covers of "Oh, Pretty Woman" and "For The Good Times" don't seem much different from one another, other than the first has a strong beat and the latter goes on twice as long. People say this is where Al started to go country, but I don't hear it. The hit by Ray Price was a country-pop crossover in 1971, and Al seems to sing it down the middle, rather than with the C&W flavorings he bestows on Call Me. Al seems in the same place pretty much throughout the record, except for the dynamic "Love And Happiness."
"Simply Beautiful" is the make-or-break track for me. Either you really love it for its deep-dish romantism, or like me, you kind of fall off trying to listen to it. Sounds like Al's nodding off too; ditto the guitar player and bassist. Hard to stay engaged when they're not.
"Look What You've Done For Me" is a good mid-tempo mover, with Al putting on his usual clinic in the singing department. It's the next best groove song after "Love And Happiness" though not nearly as deep as the first three tracks. "One Of These Good Old Days" is a nice closer, too. But I'm hard pressed to distinguish between those last two songs when looking at their titles five minutes after the album ends.
Really love Al, and this is said to be right next to Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On in the "best-album-to-make-love-to" sweepstakes, but for those of us in the sitting or standing position, Call Me or Let's Stay Together are better bets for your first Al Green disc.
Bill Slocum (14.05.2004)
It's odd how completely Al Green avoids one of
pop and soul music's most popular conventions, the "She Done Me Wrong"
song. It doesn't matter if you're Marvin Gaye or Axl Rose, at some point
in career, and more likely many points, you are going to record a song
about some woman who did you wrong, and how either you hope she's happy
in the arms of her new man (but not really meaning it) or else plan to
hunt her down and kill her like the dog she is. There are pop acts like
ELO and Hall & Oates who do nothing but these songs, and country and
soul music have their purveyors of this thematic staple as well.
So what's with Green? He not only never seemed to record a song like this, he didn't even come close. Like on this record, you start with two anthems of breakup heartbreak, but the titles tell the whole story, "Call Me" and "Have You Been Making Out O.K.?" These are both songs of winning craft and subtlety, especially the latter with its multi-tracked vocals and clear message it's really the singer asking himself: "Can you make it on your own." He doesn't mean his old love any harm, he's sorry she's moved on, but will always treasure the times they shared. I didn't think men could think this way without drugs.
I guess the title of another of his albums says it all: Al Green Is Love. If a woman walks out on him, he's going to grimace in pain, give her money for the trip to her new boyfriend's house, and help her with the bags on the way out. It's this sincerity that makes him such a compelling voice for pop/soul, and if it's a bit of a limitation in that he doesn't veer out of this groove much, it's rather amazing and thrilling how much opportunities for artistic variation and exploration he manages to find.
That said, Call Me is probably the most exciting step away from that genre. While you see it as a genre-locked Memphis soul record, I see it as a mighty reach beyond the confines of early '70s R&B into the countrypolitan sound of people like Charlie Rich and Ray Price whose core audiences were almost completely different from Al's. Al Green could sing the phone book and make it interesting, so his taking on the work of country music giants Willie Nelson and Hank Williams is a thrilling propostion. And Green delivers, not just because his voice is so silky-smooth but rough-edged enough to bring out the beauty and passion of "Funny How Time Slips Away" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," but because it so seamlessly complements his singing with soft and spare musical accompaniment, like the magnificent organ work on "I'm So Lonesome" which almost drifts across the aural mix like cigarette smoke at a lonely corner of a bar.
Green is hardly standing still on the seven originals on this record. Some are recaps of his earlier winning formula with producer Willie Mitchell. On "Your Love Is Like The Morning Sun," he even quotes the titles of three of his previous big hits on the ruminative fade: "Tired of being alone...Still in love with you...Let's stay together." Elsewhere, he's going off into new things. While gospel was always an influence, here he pays more direct heed, testifying if you will, on the hit "Here I Am (Come And Take Me)" and the amazing last track, "Jesus Is Waiting," which is as stirring a message of hope as James Brown's "King Heroin" is of damnation.
"Here I Am" also benefits from the rare (for Al Green) quick-time beat, which he feeds off of well with his scat singing and idiosyncratic phrasing. He probably has the best gift for phrasing since Sinatra, certainly more than any other performer of the rock era. "How am I doing?" he asks in "Funny How Time Slips Away." "Well I guess I'm doo-in feee-eye-ah-in."
Okay, he wasn't Stevie Wonder in the originality department. But the cat could sing. And Call Me is that moment in his career where he brought it all home.