The title of Al Green’s Lay It Down truly tells it like it is. Conceived as a collaboration between the soul legend and a handful of gifted young admirers from the worlds of contemporary R&B and hip hop, the album is drawn from a series of inspired sessions that yielded the most high-spirited, funky and often lushly romantic songs of Green’s latter-day career. The album is a refreshingly old school jam, with everyone laying down the music together, face to face, heart to heart, soul to soul.
The project features the sophisticated R&B voices of singer-songwriters John Legend, Anthony Hamilton and Corinne Bailey Rae, and it was co-produced with Green by two of hip-hop’s most innovative players, drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson from the Roots and keyboardist James Poyser, the go-to guy for high-profile artists ranging from Erykah Badu to Common. Add in Brooklyn’s celebrated Dap-King Horns (Sharon Jones, Amy Winehouse), guitarist Chalmers “Spanky” Alford (Mighty Clouds of Joy, Joss Stone) and bassist Adam Blackstone (Jill Scott, DJ Jazzy Jeff), among others, and you’ve got a modern soul-music dream team, fronted by the most expressive voice in the business.
“The reason why we are doing this is because we all idolize Al Green,” declares ?uestlove. “Even today, nobody has range like him.”
Green himself envisioned this project as a way to reach out to younger artists, particularly in the hip hop community, to find common musical ground and help spread his healing message of, as he likes to put it, “L-O-V-E.” He gamely plunged into the world of the Roots and their posse, cutting tracks with them in New York City. His youthful collaborators took this as an opportunity to get right into Al’s head, turning the sessions into a master class about how to create that sublime Al Green sound and keep it relevant for today.
As Green explains: ”They didn’t want to get too far out from the foundation that [Hi Records producer] Willie Mitchell and I built"‘Call Me,’ ‘I’m Still In Love With You,’ ‘Let’s Stay Together.” That’s all good, they said, but we want to play what we hear you being about in 2008. We want to keep all of the aura, but we would like to have freedom enough to spread our wings and express ourselves. The Roots, all the guys from Philly who came up to do this stuff with us"they were incredible. I could relax because I knew the people were capable. Everyone was coming up with ideas, everybody was pitching in, everybody was helping.”