Last fall, Craft Recordings issued a four CD compilation focusing on Isaac Hayes and his recordings for Stax, Volt, and Enterprise. Spanning the years 1962 to 1976, the set cut a wide swathe of Southern soul and managed to put into perspective the importance of Hayes' impressive oeuvre. Now, Craft turns its attention to upscale vinyl reissues of Hayes' most important recordings, namely Hot Buttered Soul
, and Black Moses
. With new remastering undertaken by Dave Cooley at Elysian Masters, these 180-gram reissues were pressed at Memphis Record Pressings and are housed in heavy cardboard covers. True to the original, Black Moses
even features the original packaging, which folds out into a cross-shaped rendering of Hayes with biblical garb and hands extended in blessing.
Up first, 1969's Hot Buttered Soul
hit the number one position on the Billboard charts the year it was released. That's not something all that hard to fathom owing to the game-changing sound heard on this iconic soul masterpiece. Bacharach's "Walk On By" never sounded so dramatic as in this treatment, with soaring strings and pipping flutes offered in contrast to fuzz guitar and Hayes' own sultry vocals. There has always been a degree of sibilance on the vocals of "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic," yet this new rendering is much improved in that department. Furthermore, the bass extension is quite impressive and there is great clarity in separation of the various instruments.
Usually cited as the centerpiece of the album, Hayes' take on Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" is a travelogue of great depth and dramatic development. The extended rant from Hayes at the start of the tune predates the urban chill genre that would develop further in the 70s thanks to folks like Barry White, Bill Withers, and The Isley Brothers. Dynamic and dead quiet, this new pressing offered one of the best versions yet of this iconic set.
Often mentioned as one his best-known releases, Hayes hit the mark with the music provided as a soundtrack for the movie Shaft
. The two-album set won him both a Grammy and an Oscar. Without a doubt, its staying power is based on the fact that the music has no trouble standing on its own aside from its role in the film. Funky wah-wah guitar and riff-based horn lines wax eloquently in a manner that speaks volumes to the kind of success that Hayes seemed to find time and time again during this prolific period. Copied and sampled time and time again, the iconic nature of this music cannot be denied.
An ambitious follow-up to Shaft
, Hayes delivered Black Moses
, a full-blown two-album set of 14 tracks clocking in at well over 90 minutes. According to several of the head honchos at Stax, the elaborate packaging was merely a gimmick to sell an album that the label frankly had little faith in musically. Reviews at the time ranged from dismal to downright ebullient, yet the album's longstanding value can't be denied. Once again, pop tunes of the day are delivered in grandiose fashion with Hayes milking every last bit of musical sustenance from pieces like "Never Can Say Goodbye," "For the Good Times," and "I'll Never Fall In Love Again."
The model set by Hayes in previous albums is to be found here as well, namely large ensemble productions with female vocals and psychedelic overtones. Hayes alternates between talking monologues and smoky vocals. Surprisingly, the dynamic range of the music is quite narrow even in this updated version. Nonetheless, the power of this inspired set comes shining through and fans of Hayes will undoubtedly want to replace their worn originals with this fresh, new reissue.
Associated equipment used for evaluation
VPI Scout 1.1 turntable with Soundsmith Zephyr MK III moving iron cartridge
Musical Fidelity A3CR amplifier and preamp
Sutherland Insight phono preamp
Bryston BCD-1 CD player
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 805 loudspeakers
Cardas cable and interconnects, Chang Lightspeed power conditioner