Green Is Blues is a resurrection of Al Green’s first album for Hi. It appeared during the summer of 1969 and died quietly even though it contained Green’s first substantial single hit, “Tomorrow’s Dream.” With Green now sitting on top of the world, Hi has repackaged the album, leaving the original liner notes (“… a young man who is a red hot rhythm and blues singer with a difference that is gonna be greatly dug by all who tune an ear to the variegated tones and shades of this album”) and music intact.
Though ace producer Willie Mitchell was at the helm, he hadn’t quite found his way into the style he uses for Green’s albums now. In 1969 Mitchell was best known for country simple instrumentals like “Soul Serenade”; he was still immersed in the Fifties R&B genre, as his choice of tunes like “Talk To Me” and “I Stand Accused” demonstrates. Green Is Blues is light on sweetening and the producer’s hand. The only tune that approaches the relative complexity of current Green/Mitchell collaborations is the hit “Tomorrow’s Dream,” one of the best singles in Green’s career. His remarkably fluid phrasing and dramatic use of dynamics is showcased by an arrangement that strikes a perfect balance between funk and fullness, and the tune is terrific, especially the “tonight baby” chorus.
The rest of the album is standard Memphis-style R&B. The very worst aspects of the Memphis sensibility are magnified beyond belief in “Gotta Find a New World,” which begins with Green reciting in tones of ersatz childlike wonder, “As I look at this world, I’m beginning to see/this is not the world God intended it to be.” The rest of the album fits comfortably between the mastery of “Tomorrow’s Dream” and the nadir of “New World.” “One Woman” is a nice song that reflects the world of early morning coffee-shops like a prototype “Me and Mrs. Jones.” There’s a memorable rising melodic contour and Green gives the song his all, more in fact than it deserves. “The Letter” and “My Girl” get solid if unimaginative treatments. The problem throughout is that nobody takes any chances. The backup group is tough and professional and Green is excellent as far as he goes, but by this time he has outdone these early efforts so thoroughly that they sound second-hand. His debt to Otis Redding is evident, and the Stax cops in the arrangements don’t help.
There is an aura of talent about to be unleashed, of power and artistry in reserve, but only “Tomorrow’s Dream” realizes Green’s and Mitchell’s potentials. Many of Green’s fans will want this album but compared to Al Green Gets Next to You and Let’s Stay Together, it’s a dud.