Hot Buttered Soul
REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/15/2008
Isaac Hayes was one of the principals of the legendary Stax Studios. His work as a songwriter, session musician and producer is reflected in some of the most important soul and funk recordings of the 60s and 70s. He had a hard time launch his career as a solo recording artist because he was so busy doing session work. His first album under his own name was rushed, and he wasn't pleased with the results. When asked to record again to help the flagging studio rebuild its catalog, he at first refused. Eventually he agreed under the condition that he retain complete creative control. The result was the biggest selling album to date for Stax.
Hot Buttered Soul was truly groundbreaking. Hayes completely eschewed the three-minute standard for pop songs, and recorded an album of only four songs, three of them coming in at over 10 minutes each. HBS is more than aptly named, as from the first note, Hayes, backed by the infamous Bar-Kays, creates a buttery smooth groove that flows effortlessly through four amazingly soulful tracks. The compositions masterfully incorporate Hayes' unique voice with his expressive keys, and a tempest of surging, orgasmic strings and horns to create a unique sound that would change the face of music. The essence of these songs is heard in a legion of soul acts that followed, as evidenced by the work of Barry White, Al Green, and the smooth soul vocal groups of the 70s like the Chi-lites and The Spinners. These acts leaned heavily on his influence with fantastic results artistically, and many hit songs. His work, and this album, are heavily sampled to this day by hip-hop artists.Opening the album is Hayes' take on the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic "Walk On By." "Walk" is a 12-minute revelation. Eschewing the original composition almost entirely, Hayes' arrangement is smoldering, dark and full of hurt and loss. The soulful anguish of the lyrics was completely lost in the original pop treatment (the Dionne Warwick version specifically). Hayes coaxes out the simmering pain of the heartbroken plea for dignity and release. The track flows out on simmering organ and strings, accompanied by some stunning fuzz guitar that adds a bluesy groove.
Track two, the obscurely titled "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic" is the only original Hayes composition here. The most upbeat track, it features a funky groove highlighting dueling wah-wah guitars and a stream of consciousness vocal "Let me stop procrastinatin' / Standing here narratin'," done in Hayes' unique style; "Your modus operandi/Is really all right, out of sight / Your sweet phalanges / Know how to please." The third track, "One Woman" is a pretty standard slow soul number, and the shortest of the disc at five minutes.
Closing the disc is another unlikely pop standard, done like it had never been done before. Hayes' cover of "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" starts out with a quiet spoken-word introduction as he sets up the song. Accompanied by a minimal, almost imperceptible organ, he creates an intimate ambiance as he tells a tale of betrayal and broken hearts. As with "Walk On By," Hayes draws the pain and emotion out of the lyrics and add his own soulful embellishments, his words flowing strong over swirling keys and horns. At 18 minutes and change, it's a mind-bending take on a song that scored big for Glen Campbell just a few years earlier.
Hayes would forge his personal style in the creation of HBS, and in doing so, he created a template that would guide generations of future artists. He would continue to record fresh, innovative music throughout the 70s and earned an Oscar for his work on the score of the film Shaft. For those who haven't had the pleasure, this is without question one of the most important albums in the history of soul music, and to hear it for the first time is a mind-blowing experience not to be missed.