As a friend said while we were driving through New Orleans' French Quarter listening to the rock critic Tom Moon calmly declare on NPR that numero-uno Southern soul man Al Green's new album I Can't Stop is an improvement over his early-'70s classics: "Motherfucker, you did stop!"
Certainly, he did. If not for the eternity his handlers are pushing, it's at least been since 1995's Your Heart's in Good Hands, which featured the word "love" in 70 percent of its titles (and "God" in none). And Green was encased in wax for, like, 10 albums before that, each of which featured lots of God and not much of the magnificently shirtless hunk melting brains on the cover of '75's Greatest Hits. Whatever, Al.
Misleading title notwithstanding, I Can't Stop does feature the fruit of Green's first non-gospel collaboration in decades with Willie Mitchell, Hi Records impresario and the producer of those early-'70s classics -- which, it should be confirmed right here, Stop definitely does not top. But the new album is quite fine, a typically effortless-sounding swagger through a sheaf of assuredly written tunes underplayed by an overqualified group of musicians. Each song boasts a taut groove -- perhaps more taut than age would portend -- and the drummer puts some swing into most. Mitchell makes sure everything sounds like it was recorded at -- lemme check -- 1320 South Lauderdale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, 38106.
Still, even if Green hasn't lost his ability to shout with a whisper (or his iconic habit of turning "you" into a 17-syllable celebration of femininity), he's not the magnificently shirtless hunk he was a quarter-century ago. His promises of eternal love don't excite the same way they once did. I mean, everybody's grandfather loves unconditionally, right?
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