Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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AL GREEN
The Immortal Soul of Al Green
Hi/The Right Stuff

Few dreamed during Al Green's commercial heyday that 30 years later the last soul man would also turn out to be the greatest. Soul men were supposed to be rough and macho, not smooth and fey; they were supposed to knock your socks off and love you all night long, not wheedle and sidle and moan. But moved along by the producer Willie Mitchell's light touch with color and groove, Green's quirky phrasing and timbral ingenuity have achieved a universality that Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett can't touch.

Green's albums were wonderful pretty much front to back, and there are songs on Livin' for You and the glorious Call Me that I'll proudly play you after you've memorized the selections on this utilitarian, cost-effective box. By sticking to his '70s studio output (meaning none of the live finds of 1997's Al Green Anthology and no gospel music, either), The Immortal Soul proves one of the few such conspicuous consumables that passes the dreaded disc-four test: Green sounds (almost) as good after his pop moment passes as he does on the 1972 smashes "Let's Stay Together" and "I'm Still in Love With You." After all, his "Take Me to the River" was never even a single.

Tracks, Dec. 2004-Jan. 2005