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The Belle Album: Expanded Edition-Al Green

(Hi/Capitol)

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It's hard for 2006 ears to imagine how audacious The Belle Album must have sounded in 1977. Today, the career arc that brought Green to the crossroads he traces on it have become legend, from the female fan who threw a boiling pot of water at the singer and then shot herself to Green's giving himself over to sacred music and his ministry. But this remains one of the bravest 180-degree turns in pop history. Even if his hits were slowing down (and they were), it takes no small nerve to tell his sizable audience, in the guise of Belle, that "It's you I want but it's Him that I need." What's most surprising about The Belle Album, though, is that the title cut isn't even the best thing on it. Every cut is terrific, but "Loving You" and "Dream," in particular, sound as if their creator is at remarkable peace with himself, an effect reinforced by Green's intimate acoustic guitar and Fred Jordan's translucent Roland synthesizers.

What's shocking about this "Expanded Edition" isn't the remastering, fine as that is. It's the fact that the three bonus tracks are all completely equal to the album itself -- rhythm numbers in the vein of "Chariots of Fire" and "I Feel Good," the disco-fied cuts that muscle up Belle's second half. Had they been included on the original release, Belle would have been heavier and less beguilingly airy, and it's a decision worth honoring. But added on, they only bolster the album's status as a masterpiece that stands with I'm Still in Love with You and Call Me, and maybe surpasses them.

-- Michaelangelo Matos

Grade: A

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