The Absolute Best

by: Al Green

Colin Escott's informative, quote-filled liner essay for this two-disc compilation is called Al Green at Hi Records, and that may well have been a better title for the set than The Absolute Best. While it would be foolish to argue that Green's brilliant sides for Hi -- superbly produced by Willie Mitchell and featuring the impassioned and idiosyncratic vocal performances that were Green's hallmark -- are not his best work, there's still enough great music to be found in Green's later gospel recordings and occasional post-Hi secular sessions that a comprehensive collection of the man's music (especially one of this length) ought to at least acknowledge the full breadth of his legacy. But that grumbling aside, this is a fine and deeply pleasurable overview of the commercial peak of Green's career, which covers his biggest hits along with plenty of worthy lesser-known cuts. Green's records didn't sound quite like anyone else's during his 1970-1978 heyday, thanks to the uncluttered snap of Al Jackson's drums, Teenie Hodges' spidery guitar lines, the sweet-and-sour horn charts, and string sections that softened the edges without robbing the sessions of their funky power, and Green's vocals, which blended a love man's pleadings with a melismatic fervor that came straight from the church, were even more compelling than their backdrops. This set features 34 examples of Green's magic in action, with a handful of rare and unreleased tracks sitting alongside classic singles like "Let's Stay Together," "Tired of Being Alone," "Still in Love With You," "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," and (of course) much, much more. This is a pretty hefty package for a "Greatest Hits" set, but if there's ever been an artist whose work has an addictive power, it's Green, and the heft of this package should satisfy both fans looking for a solid stand-alone collection of Green's years at Hi and dabblers who are looking for the hits. ~ Mark Deming

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