Al Green – Full of Fire (1976)


Full of Fire
Released on Hi Records, 1976
This pressing, The Right Stuff, 1996

Recorded at Royal Recording Studios,
1320 South Lauderdale, Memphis, Tennessee 38118.
Mastered at Audiotronics, Memphis, Tennessee.
Recorded, mixed, and produced by Willie Mitchell

Yesterday I took a four-hour bus ride with no headphones and this song (above) ran through my imagination repeatedly to keep my sanity intact. I never ever travel without some music to listen to, but then I had never planned to be leaving a huge music festival a day early and taking a bus home by myself. I am not the praying type, but only about 12 hours before I had muttered an oration to St. George asking for strength, protection, and courage to say some things that don’t come naturally to me. It didn’t work, as now I was feeling more or less like garbage: physically, spiritually, emotionally like garbage, and feeling as naked as the day I was born. But while the saints may have hung me out to dry, Al Green never fails. I let this song play on `repeat` for most of the four hours, as well as I could remember it in details which tend to be fairly accurate.

My musical ruminations were interrupted by long conversations with near strangers. I could say to you simply that “I love meeting new people!” and leave it like that, but the truth is that I love meeting new people because once they get to know me better they usually don’t want anything to do with me. I move from one city to another, wearing out my “welcome mat” at each as I go along. New city, new mat. The result is a life filled with long conversations with near strangers. I am always on the verge of a disappearing act. And I never felt more like disappearing than I did on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Enter, alas, the Church Of Al Green, where you are always truly welcome.

After the bus ride I had lunch with the less than total stranger and then went to get my car. More conversations with closer strangers who almost feel like family to me, although I know too well that this can never be. But where my car was parked, the woman who lives there simply can’t let you pass by her door without inviting you in for coffee and conversation. I accepted because, with closer strangers who feel like they could be family, there is no other choice. And besides, it lifted my spirits for an hour and made it easier to get behind the wheel and actually drive home as opposed to driving off a cliff. But there are no cliffs here, so once again the choices were fairly limited anyway. We talked of geography and inequality, of Belém and Detroit, of history and health. Feeling less alone, less strange.


After the uplifting conversation I drove home in my car that currently lacks even a simple radio. A hour, hour and a half of driving through a major city, some small towns, and some very dark highways through the countryside. I would be lying if I said I still had Al Green on replay. The concentration required puts me into a state of attention almost like meditation, sliding into reflection, pensiveness, but always coming back to the moment because, well, it is rather necessary when you are behind the wheel of a large automobile. (My automobile is not large but David Byrne was once my spiritual adviser). I drove slowly in the light rain, letting those with less patience pass me as they saw fit. What reason did I have to hurry when I live alone and had nothing in particular to do when I got home besides sleep for eleven or twelve hours.

Upon getting home I was not sleepy and instead put on this Al Green record. And I ended up playing this song, “As Soon As I Get Home,” ten or eleven times in a row. This is a common habit for many people but I very rarely if ever find myself fixated on a song like that. This record sees Al Green entering his religious period but before he started recording straight-up gospel. The lyrics are less direct, more sensuous, often romantic, and remind me somehow of the Qawwali music of the Sufis. With the difference that I can understand the lyrics. This particular song, co-written with Michael Allen whose electric piano rings cascades of texture around the gentle arrangement, is quite possibly Al Green’s most underrated composition. The whole album overflows with the incomparable work of the Hodges brothers — Leroy, Charles, and Teenie on bass, organ, and guitar respectively – who were collectively the stealth missile of Hi Record’s arsenal of sound. These guys make musical understatement into a declaration of virtuosity. One of the last collaborations with producer Willie Mitchell, this record gets buried by his more famous albums from earlier in the decade. And it’s a shame, because this one belongs right alongside them.

There are times when we all feel our soul slipping into darkness. For some of us, we wonder if it even exists or belongs with other fairy-tales like love and God. Enter then, ye of little faith, the Church of Al Green, and find your way home.

Al Green – Full of Fire (1975) in 320kbs em pee tree

Al Green – Full of Fire (1975) in FLAC


Syl Johnson – Is It Because I'm Black? 1969-71 (2006)



Syl Johnson – Is It Because I’m Black, 1969-1971 (2006)

I have had some requests for a repost of this record since the old link appears to be dead. The songs that make up the original album that gives this disc its title are just excellent. (Unfortunately packaged in a very confusing way and with a jumble of songs of dubious origins in terms of source tapes.. see original post below). The record opens with “Right On Sister” which owes a heavy debt to the Isley Brothers and James Brown, a nice long jam that references The Funky Chicken so you know it must be good. The next song is the bomb, though – “Is It Because I’m Black?”. Unfortunately some overpaid pundits (see reference to AMG in the original post, below) have been dismissive of Syl Johnson and insinuated that this record was an attempt to be contemporary with people like Marvin Gaye by incorporating social critique in his music. Without dissing Marvin Gaye at all, I have to say this is a ridiculous statement. “Is It Because I’m Black?” is a pretty damn courageous song and much more in the mold of “deep soul” than Motown, a slow southern burner laden with blues. When they first hit that minor-seventh right around 1 minute and 25 seconds, it just makes my backbone tingle. The lyrics tackling racial politics in the US are far more direct and confrontational than anything coming from most mainstream soul artists, with observations guaranteed to make white folks uncomfortable, today just as much as in 1970. The album has a fair share of cover tunes (Walk A Mile In My Shoes and Black Balloons both fit nicely thematically, Get Ready and especially Come Together.. not so much). But the real treasures for me are these two originals – the title track and “Concrete Reservation”, yet more biting, acid social critique but also a seriously huge song.

Near the end of this disc there is a weird remake of “Is It Because I’m Black” that references Wu Tang Clan, KRS-One, and Michael Jackson, followed late with a line of “Gimme My Money… I want to get paid.” !!. Basically he is castigating the people who famously sampled him and presumably neglected to pay his royalties. It’s kind of funny and sad at the same time, like the liner notes described below.

A classic album in a dubious reissue from an artist who never got his due and seemingly won’t be getting it anytime soon…

(original post…)
So the first 8 tracks of this CD make up what is a stone-soul classic of an album, a lost classic of Chicago soul at that. It really is nothing short of amazing, so forget about Richie Uberbooger’s characterization of “minor soul singer” (edit: I’ve deleted that review that was in the original post, because AMG is staffed with idiots..) Originally released in 1970, this album is long overdue for a deeper critical assessment. It should have made Syl Johnson into a household name. Unfortunately this reissue, put out by the Twilight Label (which, I think, is Syl Johnson’s own) presents the music well enough, but falls short of doing it justice. The “liner notes” tell us nothing about this landmark album, such as who plays on it or where it was recorded. For some odd reason the songs ‘Kiss By Kiss’ and ‘Get Ready’ sound like they were sourced from Mp3s Syl found on the internets (not here, I promise!), or was just mangled by Sonic Solutions No-Noise for No-Good reason, but are sandwiched between ‘Black Balloons’ and ‘Talk bout Freedom’ which sound great. No idea what is going on here but probably somebody dropped a flaming roach on of the master reels or something along those lines. The CD also contains no information whatsoever on the TEN (that’s right, TEN) extra tracks appended to the album, which seem to have been recorded at various times and restored from even less-than-stellar sources that the two mentioned above, probably at least a few from worn-out cassettes. The song “Ms. Fine Brown Frame” appears to be the song from an album in 1982, although there is no info here to prove it… What we DO get in the insert is a rambling account of how Johnson has been cheated out of his royalties much like his grandfather was cheated out of his land. Which is all good and well and no doubt true, but he could have had somebody proofread the thing first — It’s poorly written and filled with misspellings and typos. In fact its kind of a disgrace, detracting from the seriousness and high quality of writing of the title song, which has been covered by more people than I can shake my stick at. As much as I’d like to give him my money rather than some label that’s ripping him off, this is a sub-par package for what deserves a memorial edition release.

From what I can tell, Willie Mitchell and the gang at Hi Records had a huge hand in some of all this. There are no specific credits besides what is listed in the image above. Songs from his first album (“Dresses Too Short”) are also thrown on here.. All in all, this CD should have been a celebration, instead it’s a mess. In fact, the liner notes almost make me think that old Syl (at 70 years now) may be a bit drug-addled or absent-minded or in need of some cash or all of the above, because the whole thing is a pretty shoddy product. I’m glad I picked it up, because the music is incredible when the audio fidelity lets it shine through, but I’ll continue my search for the original LP or the old Charly pressing, which usually have pretty amazing mastering in spite of their no-frills presentation.


Syl Johnson – Is It Because I’m Black? 1969-71 (2006) in 320kbs em pee tree

Syl Johnson – Is It Because I’m Black? 1969-71 (2006) in FLAC LOSSLESS AUDIO