ISAAC HAYES > Black Moses & Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak)

Label: STAX
Black Moses
[Rating: 3.5 STARS]
Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak)
[Rating: 2.5 STARS]

Videos by American Songwriter

By 1971, Isaac Hayes was one of Stax Records’ most valuable songwriters, penning r&b classics like “Soul Man” for soul men like Sam & Dave. That summer, Hayes reached No. 1 with the Shaft soundtrack, which included the timeless title theme, a wah-wah-soaked hall-of-famer that still sounds as urgent and as funky as anything recorded over the past four decades. Four months later, Hayes released Black Moses, a two-record set that fortified his persona as the Great Liberator for a nation of people still fighting for civil rights. Here was a colossal black man with a shaved head, a room-rattling voice, and 40 pounds of gold hanging around his neck. And here were 14 songs spread out over 90-plus minutes on an album whose cover unfolded in the shape of a cross. But Hayes (who died last year), with his outstretched arms and skyward gaze, wasn’t playing martyr. Black Moses is his break-up album, a song cycle including originals, contemporary favorites, and a four-part “Ike’s Rap.” Hayes slows most of these songs to a crawl, stripping away whatever shred of hope the songwriters injected into “Never Can Say Goodbye,” “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” It’s all very sticky, murky, and buried beneath tons of horns, strings, and extra-thick funk. The remastered reissue underlines the album’s airlessness – a conceptual device reflecting Hayes’ own emotional chaos. At times, it’s not a very fun listen – this is relationship exorcism at its most passive-but it’s not meant to be. It’s a crafty and occasionally hollow follow-up to Shaft that stands as Hayes’ most personal work. Less personal, less somber, and less interesting, Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak) was released in 1976, just as many other ’60s and ’70s r&b stars were finding career boosts in disco. In a little more than a year, Hayes had released four disco albums; Juicy Fruit was the last of them. His longtime band helps gel the grooves, but most tracks are just that – grooves with little direction. Songs like “Music to Make Love By” follow the same horndog template used by Chef, the smooth-talking cafeteria worker Hayes voiced on South Park. But “Chocolate Salty Balls” has way more substance.


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