Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Al Green - Back Up Train (1967)


Released March 1967

This was Al Green's (credited on the cover as Al Greene) often overlooked debut album. He had not yet taken up with producer Willie Mitchell, so that horn-driven Stax-type sound that so characterised his excellent output on Hi Records was largely absent. The material is often up-tempo at times and Green's voice is younger and livelier. The sumptuous "Let's Stay Together"/"Tired Of Being Alone" style slow tempo and soulful delivery of Green's successful early seventies albums was not here yet. It is actually a good soul album, representative of its era, but obviously it pales in comparison with his later work. If this had been his only album, it may have been revered, however.


1. Back Up Train
2. Hot Wire
3. Stop And Check Myself
4. Let Me Help You
5. I'm Reachin' Out
6. Don't Hurt Me No More
7. Don't Leave Me
8. I'll Be Good To You
9. Guilty
10. That's All It Takes
11. Get Yourself Together
12. What's It All About
13. A Lover's Holiday                                        

The title track is a laid-back, slow pace soul song that sounds as if it is from an earlier period than 1967. Green's voice is soft and melodic, however and there is a nice, gentle bass sound on the track. "Hot Wire" is a lively, organ-driven, very sixties number. There is a poppiness to it. It is the sort of track that would have done well on the Northern Soul scene. I am not sure it ever did, but I think it should have done! "Stop And Check Myself" is an Otis Redding-influenced slow burner of a soul ballad. It has the first hints of the bassy, Stax-y sound that Green would have such success with a few years later. It is the one track that was written by Green himself. You can hear the roots of what was to come on this one.

"Let Me Help You" has one heck of a bass line, some Northern Soul-style backing vocals and some infectious, exhilarating drums. The horns make a welcome appearance too. "I'm Reachin' Out" is a joyous, pounding number of the sort Elvis Costello tried to replicate on 1980's "Get Happy!". It is a really enjoyable track. Once more, the bass is delicious. There are hints of Lulu's "Shout" on it too. "Don't Hurt Me No More" is a stately, solid, slow ballad with some great falsetto from Green at times. Now, the thumping beat of "Don't Leave Me" was definitely a hit on the Northern Soul scene in the late sixties, particularly at Manchester's Twisted Wheel club.

"I'll Be Good To You" is a punchy number with a very Otis Redding-esque vocal. "Guilty" is a beautifully orchestrated track, with some great percussion. "Thats All It Takes" is a cooking, horn-powered upbeat number, very typical of the soul that was around in 1967. "Get Yourself Together" is an energetic cut that sounds somewhat dated. Its sound quality is inferior to most of the rest of the album, as if it had been recorded in the late fifties/early sixties. "What's It All About" is a slow burner very typical of early/mid sixties Atlantic/Stax/Volt output. A similar slow, bassy groove backs "A Lover's Holiday". Of course, we all know better was to come from Green but check this pleasing album out if you can.


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