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Al Green

Blue Note has always been one of America's -- and the world's -- premier jazz labels, bestowing upon us classic platters by such luminaries as Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter. But the past few years have found the label expanding its focus, releasing albums by hip-hop artist Madlib and jazz-influenced rock icon Van Morrison. Now it has gone one step beyond by signing Al Green, one of the all-time greatest rhythm & blues/soul singers, and issuing his first secular album since 1995's Your Heart's in Good Hands. (He became an ordained pastor in 1976 and subsequently recorded gospel.)

I Can't Stop, Green's "comeback" album, effectively revisits the style of his 1970-73 Hi Records commercial and artistic peak (1977's The Belle Album was superb but something of a commercial disappointment). The new work is a spirited synthesis of slightly rough-hewn, gospel-inspired Memphis groove with a pronounced backbeat and the lush strings and production of the sleeker soul variants that once came out of Philadelphia and Detroit. Green's voice is unaltered by the passage of time -- one could consider him Marvin Gaye's country-bred cousin. He's reunited with producer Willie Mitchell and many of the same musicians and singers of his Hi days. New guys the Royal Horns provide the same tangy embellishments as their predecessors the Memphis Horns. It's comforting to see, after all this time, that Green still has the right stuff. I Can't Stop isn't likely to make the charts, but old-school soul devotees will find it a Godsend.

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Mark Keresman

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