(As published in the Illinois Entertainer)
By recording almost nothing but gospel for the last sixteen years, the Rev. Al Green has helped a lot of people forget or overlook the fact that, with the exception of a dodgy compilation or two, he has never made a bad album. He has, in fact, made over a dozen good-to-great ones, including most of his gospel ones and now this, Your Heart's in Good Hands, his return to the secular soul he perfected and abandoned in his million-selling heyday.
With eight of its ten songs recorded and released in Europe over two years ago, In Good Hands has about it the look of thrown-together product from a work-shy journeyman, but the juicy soul synths and bell sounds with which the title cut opens the disc declare to anyone who cares that this is the real deal.
Confirming it, of course, is Green's singing. Although middle age has coarsened his formerly downy-soft highs, he has compensated nicely by weighting the album with uptempo numbers--many of which he wrote--that require his ecstatic mode. Neither "Keep On Pushing Love" (instead of drugs, he means) or "Love Is a Beautiful Thing" (instead of a Michael Bolton thing, he means), for instance, feels too long at five minutes.
Still, it's the understated, midtempo sad song, "Best Love"--replete with descending chord changes and horn charts right out of Green's greatest hits--that shows how much he has deepened since the last time he played the love man. Arthur Baker's "executive" production might explain the succulent synths, but only a decade-plus of communing with the Divine can account for the soul in the voice.