The Gospel Of Love (Big ‘Fro Disks BF – 009)
Live in 1972 – WNET Studios, New York
Intro ( Words & Music ) / Tired Of Being Alone / Look What You Done For Me / How Can You Mend A Broken Heart / I’m Still In Love With You / Judy / You Ought To Be With Me / Love And Happiness / We’ve Only Just Begun
From the now defunct Big ‘Fro Disks comes this almost forgotten TV broadcast of ‘The Last Great Soul Man’ produced for Soul! TV & recorded to promote the ‘I’m Still In Love With You’ platinum selling album. The near hour long show captures the good reverend at his peak & brimming with the bluster of the gospel style that he had finessed to a fine style & that propelled his career. The quality is for the best part excellent & could nearly have come from the station tapes were it not for the hum during the introductions between songs that give the game away.
The show also exists as an official DVD release with remastered picture & audio but Big ‘Fro’s release obviously pre-dates that one. The show begins with a 6 minute montage addressing Al’s career so far. Unfortunately due to the TV reception afforded to the taper then this section is more or less a write off until the later stages – As it isn’t detrimental to the full show then it’s not a really big deal that it’s not sterling quality but it is interesting to hear in context next to the following show if you want to listen to a potted history of the man in question.
The show proper begins with “Tired Of Being Along” from the ‘Al Green Gets Next To You’ Album. Al sings the introduction to the song as only a gospel singer can. Backed by a basic drum beat & a lay guitar line he sings about sitting down one friday morning, writing the lyrics to this track – it’s a story rather than a musical master class in penning a lyric but this leeds straight in to the song itself. Oozing with confidence & charm Al’s voice is treacle for the ears right from the start.
Here is a man with a passion & the way he gets right behind his song stretching his voice between bird like soaring to finely laid silk is mesmerizing. “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”, a cover of the Bee Gees song, is stunning too. Musically, it’s not a great removal from the original although the wonderful little flourishes from the horn section are heartily warming but vocally, it takes on a life of it’s own. Gut wrenchingly sweet & another chance for Al to throw down his vocal acrobatics. “You Ought To Be With Me” is a mid – paced, pure soul track that has Al quickly dipping between the bassy lows of his voice to soaring highs of his falsetto.
For his finale Al apologizes for having a dry throat due to his catching a cold while traveling.
This certainly isn’t a problem though as he draws out his introduction teasingly before the familial bass notes open out to the clipped guitar chimes of the song. Someone in the control room makes the mistake of boosting the audiences clapping for a few seconds, almost burying the song entirely. This action has the nod of a studio director getting the crowd to acknowledge the song but around 15 seconds too late so what should be spontaneous applause just sounds like the audience weren’t actually paying attention – this blast only lasts a few seconds though & the track comes back in a clear as ever.
Completely aware this would almost be the final track of the evening but may get the biggest reception Al & his band drag the track out for over six minutes, dropping the horns from the track, so only the drums, guitar & bass can be heard as a quiet base under Al’s vocals. Towards the middle Al begins to breathlessly improvise over a funky jam & although it becomes quickly apparent that he runs out of things to say after a short while, the lick spikes back in again to applause.
Around the 6 minute mark the band come to a false ending before beginning the jam again while Al speculates that they might just keep rocking to the early hours of the morning. The show finishes with a sexier version of the Carpenter’s “We’ve Only Just Begun” ( Unaccounted for on the track listing ) which segues in to Al’s own “Lets Stay Together”.
The introduction to “We’ve only just .. ” is a muted, rote & chugging back bone that turns in to a simple, languid bass & guitar tune before the horn lead tune of “Let’s Stay .. ” flourishes out. This, in turn, also turns out at a magnificent 9 minutes in length before a clashing, clattering halt. Due to obvious time constraints the programs ID is then mentioned before the Big ‘Fro team quickly fade the recording out.
The packaging is relatively basic – a simple sheet cover featuring a purple coloured photo of Al on stage holding a rose while the back cover is a black & white photo showing Al playing up to his audience from the stage again along with a note regarding track ones fidelity. It’s a rare release from the label who would excel at soul but for capturing & preserving this show then, if you’re interested in the genre it’s worthy of the attention.