Before listening to Al Green’s Lay It Down, every listener has a sense of what they are about to experience. Vintage. Throwback. Traditional. Such words come tumbling out just prior to that first flush of an organ or that swift crack of a snare. Warm. Tender. Gentle. These feelings envelop the listener in preparation for the main attraction: that voice. And everyone knows what that croon means. Love. Soul. Happy.
And by now, the process of re-creating this affect — a deliberate attempt to replicate the aesthetic and tone of Green’s career-making records with producer Willie Mitchell throughout the ’70s — is similarly transparent and known. The cream of contemporary musicians, including the Roots’ ?uestlove, free agent James Poyser and the Dap Kings, jammed with Green in the Electric Ladyland studios (the same place where D’Angelo’s famed Soulquarian sessions were held) and documented their fruits.
In spite of this clear establishment of expectations, Lay It Down is a remarkable success because of its emphasis on experience. Much like artist Olafur Eliasson’s imploration for visitor interaction with his works, Green’s record is less about what you’re listening to than your listening experience. Though each song covers well-trodden territory — such as the uniqueness of love ("No One Like You"), giving too much love ("What More Do You Want From Me"), receiving too much love ("Too Much") — the album works cohesively as a meditation on patience and ease.
Playing up his role as elder statesman, Green gets away with delivering the familiar back-in-the-day sermon because listeners expect it from an icon of the past. However, by infusing such consistent gentleness throughout the entire record, he pulls off the unthinkable in the early 21st century — a momentary respite. And it’s not just simply beautiful: It is very welcome.