If his records are any indication, Al Green is a troubled, no, haunted man. Imagine the spiritual afflictions that prompted the theme of “Keep Me Cryin’,” Green’s latest single and a song from Have a Good Time: “Well I pleased all the people/But I couldn’t please the crowd/So I got down on my knees and said/Father, wouldn’t you clear my head/They keep me crying all the time.” What makes the thing even stranger is the song’s foundation: a sprightly rhythm topped by a sweet alto, and brassy trumpet fanfares replacing the usually dark and moody Memphis horns. Somehow the apparent contradictions between tone and theme work, and “Keep Me Crying” is one of the great Al Green singles of recent years.
After the relatively adventurous Al Green Is Love, Green and producer Willie Mitchell scampered back to more conservative territory on last year’s Full of Fire and again on Have a Good Time. Al’s recent announcement that he intends to bring religion into his music has not brought any appreciable changes. To be sure, there are three gospel songs here, including the marvelous Sam Cooke/Soul Stirrers title cut, but too often Green and Mitchell fall back on ploys from previous albums, including yet another country-soul weeper, Toussaint McCall’s “Nothing Takes the Place of You,” which fails to reach the stark melancholy of the original. Near the end of side two Green crows, “I’m happy,” but it is “Something,” on side one, that truly sets the tone of this album: “Something is doggin’ me…. Whatever it is I can’t leave it alone.”