Review: Hot Buttered Soul by Isaac Hayes
There’s a number of reasons why I don’t need to make this long. Just a few key points to mention.
1. In reviewing the reissues of Isaac Hayes’ later albums, Black Moses and Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak) some months back, I used that as that opportunity to laud the then-unreissued Hot Buttered Soul. The latter finally re-emerges on June 23 via Stax Records.
2. From a historical perspective, Hot Buttered Soul is essential because it signals a transition in soul and R&B music, from largely a single-driven genre into the album-oriented format. It deserves to be filed with Sly & The Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Going On, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Stevie Wonder’s Music Of My Mind.
3. From a critical perspective, Hot Buttered Soul is still a thing of wonder because of it’s audacious execution of such a bizarre concept. Hayes was known primarily as a songwriter and session player, but HBS carries only one Hayes’ co-writing credit (the pithily-titled “Hyperbollicsyllablecsesquedalymistic”) and instead devotes huge swaths to epic reimaginings of the Bacharach-David supper-club soul hit “Walk On By” and Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” At close to 20 minutes, the latter goes beyond being just a lengthy jam; it’s a ritual.
Isaac Hayes performs “Walk On By” on Music Scene, 1969
4. Given how the album was apparently pieced together — basic sessions at Ardent Studios in Memphis, orchestral arrangements hummed over the phone by Ike to orchestrator Johnny Allen, who then overdubbed the trippy strings and horns in Detroit — it might have been nice to offer a second disc of tracks with the orchestral parts faded down, just to listen to Ike and the Bar-Kays and other Memphis sideman lay down the basic track with Hayes’ vocals, even just as excerpts. Likewise, who wouldn’t want to hear Allen’s gaga orchestra in isolation. This reissue does include the single edits of “Walk On By” and “Phoenix,” which shows how effectively Stax was able to shoehorn Hayes’ expansive vision into the confines of radio convention.
5. The liner notes have a reverent appreciation from My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and some history from Bill Dahl, but a more detailed sessionography and complete list of contributing players might have been nice, too.
6. While Black Moses and Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak) merited lovely cardboard recreations of their original packaging, HBS gets a plain old jewel box with a thin insert. That album cover is a stone classic.