By the time of his death last year, more people were
familiar with Isaac Hayes’ portrayal of the lusty school chef on Comedy
Central’s South Park TV show than were
with his enormous body of music. It’s a shame, of course, one only partially
redeemed by the current drive by the revived Stax Records and the Concord Music
Group to revamp the soul giant’s back catalog for the new millennia.
Isaac Hayes, for those that need smartened up, was more than
“Chef,” more than the dusky-voiced badass that sang the theme song
from the movie Shaft. Hired as the
keyboardist of the Stax Records’ house band in 1964, Hayes performed behind
folks like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and blues great Albert King. Hayes
would later form a songwriting partnership with David Porter. Together, the two
wrote over 200 songs, including hits for artists like Sam & Dave, Carla
Thomas, and Johnny Taylor, among many others.
Hayes launched his own solo career in 1967 with Presenting Isaac Hayes, but it would be
the release, two years later, of Hot
Buttered Soul that would provide his commercial breakthrough. Comprising
four lengthy songs, three of them inspired, reinvented cover tunes, the album
defined the progressive soul movement. Hayes would take another great
commercial and creative step forward in 1971 with the release of his score for
the hit movie Shaft, with its
ubiquitous theme song, as well as with the ambitious, groundbreaking Black Moses double-album.
One cannot underestimate the influence of Black Moses on the direction of soul
music during the ’70s. With fourteen songs sprawled across two discs, Black Moses provided four sides of
effervescent funk, passionate soul, and old-school rhythm & blues. Hayes
created Superfly cool a year before
Curtis Mayfield; his lusty spoken-word interludes would inform hip-hop/rap
music a decade later; and his lush, rhythmic orchestration would foreshadow
disco’s rise in popularity during the late-70s (shudder…!).
It was Hayes’ reinvention of soul music, his penchant for
virtuoso instrumentation, his songwriting skills, and his ability to take
another writer’s song by the throat and make that sucker his bitch that made Black Moses – here now in a deluxe
reissue edition courtesy Stax/Concord – such an important effort. Forget about
Barry White or Al Green, Hayes’ cover of “Never Can Say Goodbye” is
sheer breathless seduction. Displaying the full breadth of Hayes’ vocal abilities,
and backed with on-point harmony vocals and a lush soundtrack, the song’s
romantic overtures take on an entirely different vibe here.
Hayes takes Mayfield’s “Man’s Temptation” and
turns it inside-out, his desperate vocals often accompanied by a lone drumbeat
or shots of keyboard before soaring into passionate washes of backing harmonies
and subdued instrumentation. With “Going In Circles,” Hayes layers
sensuous harmony vocals, shocks of blasting horns, and jagged washes of funky
guitar, his own soulful vocals darting in-and-out of the mix for max effect.
The original “Good Love” comes out of the gate
with some irreverent laughter and a tongue-in-cheek spoken intro before jumping
into a funky romp with squalls of wiry guitarwork and fleet-footed rhythms.
Tackling accomplished country songwriter Kris Kristofferson, Hayes builds upon
other versions of “For The Good Times” with a wonderfully sublime
vocal performance, sparse instrumentation, and understated moxie.
Black Moses would
prove to be an enormous success, hitting 1 on the R&B chart, 2 on the jazz
chart, and rising to 10 on the pop chart while yielding a Top Thirty hit single
with “Never Can Say Goodbye.” The album would win Hayes a GrammyTM Award and would cap off a dominating year for the veteran soul man – Hayes’
soundtrack for Shaft would top all
three album charts, win three GrammyTM Awards, and earn Hayes the first Oscar
won by an African-American composter. More importantly, Black Moses would provide a creative and evolutionary shift that would
have a profound effect on soul and jazz music for a generation to follow.
By the way, the über-cool fold-out cover showing Hayes in
full soul-savior glory that worked so well as a 12″ LP is mostly just a
bother on a 5″ cardboard CD cover; with the two discs crammed into tight
pockets you have to be careful not to tear when you take ’em out. Sure, it’s
groovy and all that, but couldn’t we have had form and functionality? Jus’ sayin’….
Standout Tracks: It’s all good, baby…. REV. KEITH A. GORDON