Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Soul singer Green keeps streak going

Soul singer Al Green, the minister of love who was born in eastern Arkansas, keeps spreading his message of happiness and good vibes with his third CD from Blue Note, “Lay It Down,” which evokes the exuberance of his 1970s Hi Recordings.

“Lay It Down” is a remarkable feat, even better than “I Can’t Stop” and “Everything’s OK,” his first two Blue Note records, which have helped revive his career and found him new fans.

Several young neo-soul performers were involved in the production of “Lay It Down,” making the 62-year-old Green sound young, too. He still makes it sound nice and easy, even if it takes a little more effort to get out those high notes that sound as if he were singing gospel at his Memphis church.

Rev. Green sings like it’s still 1974, and with gas prices out of control and inflation on the rise, it seems as if not much has changed in three decades, when he was at the height of his fame. He’s one of the last of the great male soul singers: Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, O.V. Wright, James Carr, Joe Tex and Dave Prater (of Sam and Dave) are long gone, and now James Brown and Wilson Pickett have also passed on, although Clarence Carter is still doing pretty well.

But Green is the No. 1 Soul Man: He keeps singing and preaching and selling records thanks to the good folks at Blue Note, who have recorded African American music for almost 70 years.

Green brings a little sanity to the world with his artistry. His career is flourishing, too: He’ll be at Carnegie Hall next weekend and will receive a lifetime achievement award from Black Entertainment TV.

On July 5, he will appear with Gladys Knight at Harrah’s Casino in Tunica, which is worth a trip. (Tickets are still available from Ticket-master.) You can get there on a tankful of gas. That’s not too much to pay to hear a living legend who was born on a farm near Forrest City.

If you can’t get to Carnegie Hall or even Tunica, buy one of the Rev. Green’s records. His message of happiness and love is as strong as ever.

Delmark, the Chicago blues label that has preserved the music of southern migrants to the Windy City for 50 years, continues its series of live blues CDs recorded at local clubs.

The records give you a sense of what it’s like to hear live blues in a Chicago club. Byther Smith’s “Blue on the Moon: Live at Natural Rhythm Social Club” is one of the best of the Delmark releases. He’s a classic performer who moved from Mississippi to Chicago when he was a young man, but it’s as if he’s never left: When he shouts the blues, he evokes more than the music of the Windy City. He takes you back to the Delta, where the music began.

Two other Mississippi transplants — Little Arthur Duncan on “Live at Rosa’s Lounge” Johnny B. Moore on “Live at Blue Chicago” and Jimmy Burns on “Live at B.L.U.E.S.” — also evoke the music of the big city, as well as the Delta. The music is timeless.

From the Arkansas Delta, there’s James Yancy Jones, who hails from Altheimer (Jefferson County) and calls himself Taildragger, and he had a live recording issued a couple of years ago called “My Head Is Bald: Live at Vern’s Friendly Lounge” with Lurrie Bell, Bill Branch and Jimmy Dawkins. The music is a listener-friendly as the lounge where it was recorded.

Younger musicians who weren’t born in the Delta are also part of the Delmark live music series. Dave Spector’s “Live in Chicago,” recorded at Buddy Guy’s Legends and at Ro-sa’s Blues Lounge, has guest performances with the great Jimmy Johnson (also of Chicago by way of north Mississippi), as well as Tad Robinson and Sharon Lewis. Let’s hope Delmark has enough music left over from those sessions to get a Jimmy Johnson CD out of them.

As a bonus, many of these CDs are also on DVD, so you can see what it’s like in a Chicago blues club without having to take a trip there.

This is a great series, and Delmark deserves our thanks for preserving such great music.