Al Green can’t even visit his local drugstore without some guy showing him baby pictures and confiding that the youngsters were conceived to a soundtrack of his romantic R&B hits.
But these days, Green — whose religious struggles once led him to abandon the soul mainstream for the ministry — doesn’t mind hearing how his old songs have been used as get-busy music.
“I hear that all the time: this is our first child, this is our second right here, we been married eighteen years,” says Green, who’d just been accosted by a photo-wielding fan at a Memphis Walgreen’s. “I don’t know that I have to reconcile that with my spiritual beliefs. It’s just about natural life, man. That’s what it is.”
This newfound peace between the sexual and the sacred helped inspire Green’s upcoming album, Everything’s OK, due March 1st on Blue Note. The follow-up to 2003’s well-received I Can’t Stop, which reunited Green with his longtime producer and arranger Willie Mitchell for their first secular collaboration in almost two decades, Everything’s OK finds Green comfortable with his dual roles as pastor and pop star.
“I been in jail, I been drunk, I been sober, I been good, I been bad, I been right, I been wrong,” recites the fifty-eight-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer in a preacher’s rising cadences. “But when I look around today at the goodness of God, everything’s OK.”
This includes his partnership with Mitchell, who helped craft signature Southern soul hits like “Let’s Stay Together” and “Still In Love With You” for Green in the Seventies. When he rejoined Mitchell for I Can’t Stop, Green says, the two mapped out a series of albums. “We talked about laying the foundation with I Can’t Stop, and then going across that bridge with Everything’s OK.”
The new outing features most of the same players as the last album, including guitarist Charles “Skip” Pitts and the eight-piece New Memphis Strings, who have a larger role this time around. And this record was once again recorded at Mitchell’s legendary Royal Studios in Memphis, where Green’s classic Seventies sides for Hi Records were tracked.
What separates Everything’s OK from its predecessor is that it was cut between breaks on his 2004 tour, and maintains “that live power and energy,” Green says. “It gets down to the raw, to the real, to the quick Al Green. I think this is the place me and my band been trying to get to for about ten or fifteen years, and wasn’t able to get to it.”
In concert, Green adds, none of his old material is off-limits now. He says his fans have always discerned the spiritual message inside his sexy singles.
“Like ‘Simply Beautiful’ — it ain’t all about the cleavage that I see with the clothes you wear. It’s somethin’ on the inside,” he says. “I been singin’ that too long for people not to know that.”