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Isaac Hayes: Can You Dig It?

Jim Santella By

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We've all been exposed to the music of Isaac Hayes. His film soundtracks and jazz-tinged funk have had their effect. Today he's also known for his role as a school cafeteria worker in the animated television series South Park. A leading romantic icon in the popular music world, he's given Stax Records a pile of great albums that blend jazz with blues and rock. Included in this two-CD set are tracks from several albums: Black Moses, Shaft, Presenting Isaac Hayes, Hot Buttered Soul, Isaac Hayes Wonderful, To Be Continued, The Isaac Hayes Movement, Chocolate Chip, Groove-a-thon, Joy and Isaac Hayes Live at the Sahara Tahoe, as well as the soundtracks from Three Tough Guys and Truck Turner.

Hayes, 63, grew up with his grandparents in Tennessee. Self-taught on piano, organ, and alto saxophone, he worked the nightclub circuit in Memphis as a teenager. His first LP presented the singer as a jazz-flavored soul artist who made quite an impression with his appearance as well as his comfortable grooves. The shaved head, heavy beard, and bare chest have become trademarks that are as recognizable as his powerful voice.

His "Theme from Shaft" opens the album with its memorable groove and searing vocal. The song is repeated on the fifteen-minute DVD portion of the album, which is taken from an August 20, 1972 performance at the Los Angeles Coliseum with Rev. Jesse Jackson for the Wattstax Summer Festival. His in-person performance makes for a memorable affair.

The audio portion of the album brings that voice to life with clarity and a full emotional presence. Reaching back to his Tennessee roots, Hayes incorporates elements of heartfelt gospel into nearly everything that he approaches. His music sways with a loving heart, while he's constantly surrounded by a powerful rhythmic groove. Backup singers, horns, and strings add a deeper perspective to his musical arrangements.

Dionne Warwick makes an appearance with Hayes on "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "I Say a Little Prayer" that has the power to melt anyone's heart. Together, they convince evenly with grace and charm. In a creative mood, they interpret the two songs simultaneously and make perfect sense out of them. She sings "I Say a Little Prayer" while he sings "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," and their phrases overlap consonantly with ease. Feeling their way with a call and response arrangement, the two veteran artists deliver a lasting mood that has stood the test of time.

Spirituals such as "His Eye is on the Sparrow" place Hayes in close communion with his audience. Three tracks that appear here have not been issued previously. "Brand New Me," "If Loving You is Wrong," and "His Eye is on the Sparrow," which were recorded live in 1972 at Jesse Jackson's PUSH Expo in Chicago, give Can You Dig It? a powerful lift. Hayes' bared soul and natural form of communication open up pathways to the heavens in the same way that he's opened up doors to mass audiences of emotional souls the world over.

Track Listing: CD1: Theme from Shaft; Precious, Precious; Hyperbolicyllabicsesquedalymistic; Ain't that Loving You (for More Reasons than One); Never Can Say Goodbye; By the Time I Get to Phoenix; Soulsville; Wonderful; Help Me Love; Need to Belong to Someone; Good Love; The Look of Love; Do Your Thing; For the Good Times; I Stand Accused. CD2: Walk On By; Joy (Part 1); His Eye is on the Sparrow; Brand New Me; If Loving You is Wrong (I Don't Want to be Right); Someone Made You for Me; Baby I'm-a Want You; Let's Stay Together; Theme from The Men; I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You); Title Theme (from Three Tough Guys); Run Fay Run; Chocolate Chip; Come Live With Me; Disco Connection; Rock Me Easy Baby (Part 1); Medley: By the Time I Get to Phoenix/I Say a Little Prayer. DVD: Rolling Down a Mountainside; Theme from Shaft; Soulsville; Chocolate Salty Balls.

Personnel: Isaac Hayes: vocal, piano, vibraphone, organ, electric piano, alto saxophone, xylophone; Michael Toles, Charles "Skip" Pitts, Harold Beane, Sammy Watts, William Vaughan, Anthony Shinault: guitar; Lester Snell, Marvel Thomas, Sidney Kirk: keyboards; James Alexander, Donald "Duck" Dunn, William Murphy, Ronald Hudson, Erroll Thomas: bass; Willie Hall, Al Jackson, Jr.: drums; Jimmy Lee Thompson: congas; Gary Jones: congas, bongos; Willie Cole: percussion; David Porter, Dionne Warwick: vocals; others.

Title: Can You Dig It? | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Fantasy Jazz

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