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Everything's OK
THE REVEREND AL GREEN
Blue Note
I Can't Stop - the 2003 album that reunited Al Green in Memphis with producer Willie Mitchell, the man who helmed his historic '70s output - seemed aural proof that you can't go home again. Weak material and bloated production, perhaps designed to conceal Green's weakened voice, doomed the project.

Everything's OK rights many of those wrongs, but doesn't approach his classic repertoire. Mitchell shows a defter touch here, and, save for over-processed drums on most tunes, manages to capture the grandeur of '70s soul. A large string and horn section adorns most tracks, augmenting an already ample rhythm section.

While Green's voice is not as intimately front-and-center as three decades ago, at least it's not shrouded. On a tender remake of "You Are So Beautiful," the instruments back off a bit and his voice is out there naked, a bit strained, cracking ever so slightly in spots, a little ragged in the falsetto range - but still captivating, and quite vulnerable.

By and large, the slower material works better. "Perfect to Me" and "Real Love" (probably the disc's standout track) are simmering pieces of gospel-infused R&B. A handful of midtempo tunes - the bouncy "All the Time," the churning "I Can Make Music" and "I Wanna Hold You" - capture glimpses of past glory.

Green, an ordained minister closing in on his 59th birthday, still seems a bit queasy writing and singing secular material (note "The Reverend Al Green" above the title). Most of the songs are chaste platitudes about everlasting love and devotion. Even though early material like "Let's Stay Together," "Look What You Done For Me," "I'm Still in Love with You," "Love and Happiness" and others dealt with similar themes, there was a sexuality, a passion, a desperation that gave them meaning. Not so with the new tunes.

-Eric Snider

Back to Me
KATHLEEN EDWARDS
Zoë/Rounder
Canadian songstress Edwards' second full-length for cred-heavy roots/folk/blues imprint Zoë/Rounder blends her apparent alt-country influences with more pop than was formerly in evidence. There's still plenty of twang, however, albeit more in the vein of heavily pop-grounded artists like Old 97s than the usual female folk-country suspects. A couple of these tunes (the title cut, the conspicuously heartstring-tugging "Old Time Sake," the Sheryl Crow-ish "Summerlong" and "What Are You Waiting For?") veer dangerously close to the pedestrian, but Edwards' unique phrasing and enthralling voice - a uniquely expressive balance of roughness and on-point pitch - keep things on the interesting side of anonymity. Standouts include the opening "In State," the maudlin, Hammond organ-assisted "Independent Thief," and the acoustic "Away." Back to Me is an impressive sophomore effort, though Edwards' wonderful voice deserves more consistently original material. 1/2

-Scott Harrell

Aha Shake Heartbreak
KINGS OF LEON
RCA
When the Followill brothers and their cousin Matthew burst onto the scene with 2003's Youth & Young Manhood, they were sold as part of the new vanguard of Southern rock. But if the first album and the backgrounds of these scruffy preacher's kids dovetail nicely with that marketing pitch, these Kings are anxious to conquer new lands. So while tracks such as the rumbling barroom stomp of "Four Kicks," boogie blues throbber "Pistol of Fire," and the haunted rustic ballad "Milk" are built from that old twang, the rest is more indebted to the Strokes and their new wave and punk influences. This is clear from the opening track, "Slow Night, So Long," which employs a guitar line remarkably similar to "The Modern Age," itself a canny relative to Television. Aping this stylish, low-key thrum, while the rhythm section affects a slinky new wave bounce, the album's high point is "Taper Jean Girl," whose chunky jangle conjures the Wedding Present and is the album's most vibrant track.

-Chris Parker

Forever Hasn't Happened Yet
JOHN DOE
Yep Roc
Those who left the story when X was disbanding and haven't kept up with John Doe's work over the ensuing two-plus decades can be forgiven. He's never duplicated his success on four solo discs (for as many different indies) due to inconsistent material and a floundering artistic vision. That hasn't been entirely remedied on his new album, but at least Forever Hasn't Happened Yet shows blue sparks of the old Doe. Recorded over a two-week period in an L.A. studio, the sessions have the insistent, raw, near-demo sound of old X albums, but without the punk edge. Some tracks meander in search of a melody. Tunes occasionally wander into a snoozy nether land, like on the dreary "Worried Brow," whose potential is dissipated by his band's dubious performance. Regardless, Doe sings with more conviction than he has since his Knitters days, and seems to be revitalized on this brief, 31-minute release.

-Hal Horowitz

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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