Al Green is so charismatic he could make you wonder about the taste of Guyanese Fla•vor•aid. There’s an element of danger about everything he does, a sense that at any moment he could be revealed as a complete charlatan—and that it wouldn’t matter. If he hadn’t been a great musician, he might have become a master street politician or a preacher (he’s dabbled with the latter anyway). What saved him was his vision.
While Truth n’ Time, Green’s second self-produced and mostly self-written LP, lacks the monumental peaks of last year’s The Belle Album, it has much more focus. Al Green is now involved in the full-scale exploration of black musical forms, and he takes on a wide variety here: gospel (“King of All”), disco (“Happy. Days,” “Truth n’ Time”) and pop (“To Sir with Love,” “Say a Little Prayer”) are only the most obvious. These genres shift and overlap, so that Green preaches during the most danceable cuts and dances through the most preachy. In “Wait Here,” he even explores the blues. “Going down to Memphis/See what I can see,” he sings in the second verse, echoing Ma Rainey’s primordial “See See Rider,” then later adds: “Gonna wait here till my rider comes.” The surface of “Wait Here” is just modern dance music, but underneath it, there are about four hundred years of black cultural history. The message is still inchoate: Is Green aiming to make his listeners restive or disruptive?
Maybe both. Al Green isn’t only a visionary, he’s something of a mystic, too. Truth n’ Time views these two concepts as inseparable, and if Green is enough of a rationalist to contend that all we need is time, he’s also sufficiently adept at metaphysics to view time as a very elastic concept. He has to see it that way. Otherwise, how could he control the tempos of his records so beautifully?
Though disco was clearly a dominant commercial factor in Truth n’ Time‘s conception, it’d be a grave error to attempt to pigeonhole this artist. Green’s music can no longer be contained by any one genre: like all great American pop, his work has ceased to be a matter of formulas and become an internal dialogue. While this may breed a certain degree of insularity, it also means that when Al Green turns the full power of his gaze upon his audience, the sensible listener covers his face in awe.