Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
It may have taken 27 years for Al Green and mentor/producer Willie Mitchell to reunite for a bold new secular album, but now that they're in the groove, it seems there's no stopping a good thing.
Of the new "I Can't Stop," released worldwide on Blue Note the week of Nov. 17, Green says, "This brought back warm feelings for the good times" -- borrowing from the title of his 1972 album track "For the Good Times." He adds, "We're already in the middle of writing a fourth song" for another album.
Not only did the legendary team work out of Mitchell's Memphis-based Royal Studios, the birthplace of such soul classics as "Let's Stay Together" and "Love and Happiness," but it went a step further and recruited some of the same musicians (guitarist Mabon "Teenie" Hodges, bassist Leroy Hodges, the Royal Horns) and backup vocalists (Donna Rhodes, Charlie Chalmers, Sandra Rhodes) from Green and Mitchell's 1970s heyday. Even the same RCA ribbon mic -- No. 9 -- was dusted off for the occasion.
For the new set, the only rule that Mitchell stipulated was that this should not be a gospel album. "I had some things in my head and he had things in his head," recalls Mitchell, who had been in the hospital fighting diabetes. "We didn't have a label at the time. My idea was just to cut some good songs and make him sing well. And it came out exactly the way I planned it. There was no doubt that we'd get a label."
The pair co-wrote eight of the album's 12 songs, with Green penning four on his own. "We tried to redo a bunch of old songs," Green says. "Then Willie said, 'It can't be some songs that someone has sung 2,000 times. It's gotta come from the inside of you.' So we sat down at the piano like we did in the 'Tired of Being Alone' days.
"Willie saw the picture," Green adds. "He told me, 'You've started a great oil painting, but you haven't finished it.' He's such a great artist himself. I've just tried to do what he sees Al Green can be or could be."
For Mitchell's part, little has changed since he first met Green in 1969, promising he could make the singer a star in 18 months. "He's got the greatest voice I've ever heard in my life -- and I've cut everybody. There's nothing he can't do with it."
Green is set to appear on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" Nov. 20, followed by a performance Dec. 6 at New York's Beacon Theatre. He will sing "Let's Stay Together" with fellow Memphis native Justin Timberlake on the latter's Nov. 25 NBC special.
And a Green tribute special begins filming in mid-November for a probable early-2004 airdate. Details concerning guest artists and an affiliated network are still being negotiated, as are plans for an extensive 2004 tour of the U.S. and overseas.
Since 1980, Green's soulful voice has graced a series of gospel albums as well as preached sermons from his Memphis pulpit at Full Gospel Tabernacle. However, longtime fans relived Green's passion-greased pipes on the 2002 Grammy-nominated duet with Ann Nesby, "Put It on Paper."
Having reconciled his secular and gospel personas -- "I first asked my church about singing songs where I throw in words like 'baby' and 'sugar'" -- Green is ready to march onward. "Did you hear that damn thing?" he says with a laugh, referring to his new album. "Sounds pretty good, don't it?"
Excerpted from the Nov. 22, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
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