There’s nothing new about the new Al Green record. His new label, A&M, is the distributor of his old label, Word. His new producer, Willie Mitchell, was the producer of his classic hits. His subject matter, unambiguous praise of the Lord, hasn’t changed since the late Seventies.
What’s uncanny about the new Al Green record, and maybe without precedent, is how Green and Mitchell, working in the same studio with many of the same musicians, have perfectly recaptured the magical sound of “Let’s Stay Together,” “Livin’ for You” and the like. But new songs should do more than sound like old songs. If “True Love,” “I Feel Like Going On” and “Going Away” don’t, then at least the old songs they sound like are great old songs. The only great new Al Green song here is “Power,” which builds on “Jesus Is Waiting” and “Have You Been Making Out O.K.” but claims its own space in the pantheon. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with juggling chords and licks the way Mitchell and Green do here; for years, that’s how hits were made in Memphis, and it is what makes Al Green best-of’s the most consistent and listenable of anybody’s.
But nothing here, except “Power” or maybe “True Love,” ranks with the cream of his gospel work. Which makes you wonder: Have old Al Green fans been so put off by his faith that they’ve missed out on the remarkable records he’s made on his own these last eight years? Could there really be soulful people who don’t own Higher Plane, The Lord Will Make a Way, Truth and Time or The Belle Album?
He Is the Light is fine, even intriguing. By all means buy it. But to call it a comeback only insults the albums that the Reverend Al Green has sung for the righteous, or anyone else with $8.98 plus tax.