Singer Al Green plays Belly Up Aspen
ASPEN – Not only is the era of classic soul gone, but gone with it are most of the singers. Sam Cooke and Donny Hathaway died young – Otis Redding even younger. Marvin Gaye and the Temptations pair of Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin didn’t make it past their early 50s, their careers mostly having preceded them in death. By comparison, Ray Charles and Solomon Burke had relatively long lives, but both are now gone, too. By the time Isaac Hayes died, in 2008, he was best known as a cartoon character. Bill Withers and Sly Stone are still living, but their musical lives basically ended decades ago. And not to pile on, but we’re still waiting for D’Angelo, the presumptive heir to the throne, to release his follow-up to the classic album “Voodoo,” released 12 years ago.And still, old-school soul lives on in an impressive way. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings began making a name for themselves a decade ago not only with a classic soul sound but playing vintage instruments. Amy Winehouse was a pop star of the highest order before dying last year. Mayer Hawthorne, a 33-year-old singer from Michigan, sold out Belly Up earlier this month with a style that is part Marvin Gaye, part Temptations, part Smokey Robinson. The Los Angeles group Fitz & the Tantrums attained instant prominence following the release of their soul-drenched 2010 album “Pickin’ Up the Pieces.” Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, both of the Allman Brothers Band and two of rock’s greatest guitarists, each took a turn toward vintage soul last year. Marc Broussard, a Louisiana singer whose repertoire includes faithful covers of tunes like Donny Hathaway’s “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” wowed the Wheeler Opera House enough at the 7908 Songwriters Festival last spring that he has been booked to return to the Wheeler for New Year’s Eve. And when Barack Obama took the mike at an appearance in January at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the first order of business wasn’t an attack on Republicans but a tuneful bit from the 1972 soul hit “Let’s Stay Together.”Al Green, who wrote and sang the original version of “Let’s Stay Together,” says the resurgence has much to do with nostalgia. “Everyone’s kind of looking back saying, ‘Hey man, when I met that girl, that song – maybe “I’m Still in Love With You” by a kid named Al Green – was playing.’ Afterward they get into a situation and say, ‘When I think back on it, that’s what I hear,'” Green said from Los Angeles. “There’s a lot of Marvin Gaye, a lot of Staples Singers, a resurgence of all that music. The Temptations – ‘I Got Sunshine’ – that was the best music right there.”But the endurance of soul music isn’t entirely about looking backward. In 2008, Green released “Lay It Down,” an album that wasn’t a major departure from his past but was hardly a replication of his past glory, either. The album was co-produced by Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of the Roots and featured younger singers Anthony Hamilton, Corinne Bailey Rae and John Legend. “Lay It Down,” which showed Green in excellent voice as he stuck to the romantic tones of his biggest years, found an audience and landed at No. 9 on the Billboard chart.Green, 66, was uncertain of such late-in-life success. His career had taken a sizable dip, attributable at least in part to a decision to focus through the ’80s on gospel music.”I questioned myself. I had to. I have to analyze: Can I still do it?” said Green, who has made several well-received appearances at Jazz Aspen Snowmass and who plays Tuesday at 9 p.m. at Belly Up, backed by a 14-piece band, with tickets still available ($170 for general admission). “But the answer is yes. Willie Mitchell” – the producer and record label owner who worked closely with Green in the ’70s – “taught me well. ‘Lay It Down’ is just an extension of ‘Let’s Stay Together,’ ‘Love and Happiness,’ ‘I’m Still in Love With You.’ It fits in the same bag.”Green, an Arkansas native who lives in Memphis, Tenn., where he made his vintage hit recordings, has kept an eye on what has happened to soul music since his glory years. It made him most willing to go along with the younger musicians to make “Lay It Down.” “?uestlove and the Dap-Kings, all these people, I was listening to the music they made with the Jill Scott lady, the Amy Winehouse girl, and I said, ‘That’s pretty good,'” said Green, who was named No. 66 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2005 list of the 100 greatest artists. “Then we made my album, and I said, ‘That’s pretty good.’ It’s kind of flighty. It moves and has these good vibrations woven into it.”Green has written several songs for a follow-up to “Lay It Down.” But he also is thinking about making a tribute to Mitchell, who died in 2010. That project would be a means of continuing to hand the soul baton off down the line; the tribute Green has in mind would be a collaboration with Mitchell’s sons.”I was thinking that might be a good idea,” he said. “His sons set up the cords at the original sessions. And because Willie was the guy who said, ‘That guy has a unique voice.’ I said, ‘Who are you talking about?’ He said, ‘You.'”Asked what the elements were that went into the classic soul sound, Green said it’s all about a feeling. “You can’t see it so much, but you can feel it,” he said. “Emotionally, I know what it is – if you’ve got music that comes from the soul.”But Green didn’t discount that notion that soul music has a particular effect on the body, as well.”In England, they say a lot of babies are being born to this music,” he firstname.lastname@example.org
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