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Al Green 

Lay It Down (Blue Note)

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It might seem the product of a focus group, but Lay It Down stands as Green's most organic album in decades. Produced by Roots drummer ?uestlove, Lay It Down pairs the veteran soul singer with such latter-day old-schoolers as Anthony Hamilton, John Legend, and Corinne Bailey Rae. And it's a layered, subtle record, celebrating patience, persistence and, of course, love. "Take Your Time" — a slow jam with the sensuous Rae — features Green at his most secular and sexy, while "Stay With Me (by the Sea)," his turn with Legend, is so seamless that you can't tell where one voice ends and the other begins. The sound is classic soul, with fatback drumming and wiry guitar, stylishly updated with strings, horns, and choruses — to snare listeners who think R&B began with Amy Winehouse and the Dap-Kings, whose horns are part of the album's funky mix. While the duets may get top billing, Green's solos — forays into yearning ("All I Need") and lust ("I'm Wild About You") — may be even more compelling. The mid-tempo groove animating most of these tunes threatens repetitiveness. But they default to urgency, making Lay It Down satisfyingly dramatic.

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