The problem with so much modern gospel music is a lack of soul.
Gospel in the '90s tends to be over-produced, full of electronic piano and rhythmically slick. One listens, wishing for more weight, more heft, wishing the singers would throw body blows instead of plucking our heart strings.Modern gospel charms more than it moves.
For guts in gospel, listeners can either wait for hardcore country artists like George Jones and Vern Gos-din to feel churchy enough to cut a few tracks. Or they can listen to great black gospel singers like Al Green.
"I Get Joy" isn't Green's latest release. It was brought out last year. But I review it here because it's a wonderful primer for getting acquainted with Green's work.
Green wrote more than half the songs, and all of them fit squarely in the black gospel tradition. Vocally, Green's a first cousin of Smokey Robinson, a Motown tenor with vocal chords more supple than rubber bands. And listening to him bob and weave, listeners may feel deja vu for the heyday of The Temptations and the Four Tops, especially on the songs "All My Praise" and "The End Is Near."
But Green has built on the groundwork such groups laid down and turns the tradition into his own. And that's no easy trick. A good 70 percent of the singers in America today are mired in musical traditions and lack the power and personal voice to rise above them.
Green rises. "Mighty Cloud of Joy," for instance, may sound like classic gospel choir music a la Edwin Hawkins, but Green makes the song his own by the third or fourth bar.
The man also has a knack for writing songs that are subtle enough to work on both romantic and religious levels. Hear "You're Everything to Me."
In short, if you're tired of being swayed to sleep by the dreamy gospel cuts played on late night FM stations, get Al Green.
He's an alarm clock.