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DVD/Video/Film Reviews

30th Anniversary of Wattstax on Special Edition DVD

By Published: October 5, 2004

Luther Ingram offers another definitive version of a classic soul song, singing the words to "If Loving You is Wrong, I Don't Want to be Right" so passionately they convince you that he's wrenching them from his heart for the very first time. Abandoned in his own misery, lost among shimmering teardrops of guitar, Ingram so sadly looks at his watch in between the lines "If I can't see you when I want/ I'll see you when I can," a detail of inspired soul genius that shines lustrous and brilliant.

Isaac Hayes at Wattstax
(his complete set)

Riding the success of his chart-topping Shaft soundtrack, headliner Hayes ends the DVD with a performance so resplendent it leaves no doubt of his place in the pantheon of modern soul royalty. His segment begins with "Shaft," the famous cauldron of electric big-band soul, here boiling over with wicked wah-wah rhythm guitar, funk bass, and congas. Hayes' rhythm guitarist and conga player really sparkle through the aural clarity of the DVD.

Hayes ends the concert film with "Soulsville," a slow-rolling gospel blues about hard life in a rundown, hopeless town, which he punctuates with saxophone and some powerfully emotional testimony. (The original ending to the concert, Hayes' "Rolling Down a Mountain," is offered among the DVD special features.)

Someone should have had the sense to take the microphone from Jesse Jackson about five minutes quicker (most likely not the first time that phrase has been written) into his introduction of Hayes to the stage. But Jackson did nail another introduction, earlier in the show: "Today on this program you will hear gospel and rhythm and blues and jazz. All those are just labels. We know that music is music."

"Music is music." Whether you're an 11-year-old suburban Philly whiteboy like me, or a 65-year-old rumpshaker from Memphis like Rufus Thomas, music is music. Right on.

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