Old Soul Meets Neo Soul

(Originally published on MOLI 4/3/8)

Everyone knows the importance of pitch to singing, but rarely do people talk about the need for rhythm. A skilled drummer can make a good singer great; as the song says, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.

Which is why I’m excited about the news that Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson has coproduced Lay It Down, the upcoming album by Al Green. ?uestlove, drummer for Philadelphia hip-hop group the Roots, is a musical connoisseur who has worked with Common, Erykah Badu, Fiona Apple, Blackalicious, and a ton more, constantly proving – John Henry like – that man can outdrill machine. Green, of course, is just one of the world’s greatest living singers, the man whose falsetto defines soul sensitivity.

I’ve seen Green perform a couple times, and he can hit those high notes like swatting a fly. Of course, that also means it’s easy for him to phone it in. Perhaps ?uestlove can do for Green what Rick Rubin did for Johnny Cash: Find new depths in a legend. With guests John Legend, Corinne Bailey Rae, and Anthony Hamilton, it’s old school meets new school time.

Admittedly, those neosoul singers can wax a little milquetoasty. But I’m trusting ?uestlove and coproducer keyboardist James Poyser – another musician with heavy-duty credentials (Badu, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott)– to make this more than just a nostalgia act with modern beats. Other players on Lay It Down include the Dap-King Horns (Sharon Jones, Amy Winehouse), guitarist Chalmers “Spanky” Alford (Mighty Clouds of Joy, Joss Stone), and bassist Adam Blackstone (Jill Scott, DJ Jazzy Jeff). Fuck sample clearances.

Lay It Down will be released May 27 by Blue Note. For a hint of how incredibly groovalicious this collaboration sounds, check out the promotional video.


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