Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul (1969/2003)

Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul (1969/2003)
Artist: Isaac Hayes
Album: Hot Buttered Soul
Genre: Soul / Funk
Label: MFSL
Released: 1969/2003
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)
Tracklist:
Walk on By (Burt Bacharach, Hal David) – 12:03
Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic (Isaac Hayes, Alvertis Isbell) – 9:38
One Woman (Charles Chalmers/Sandra Rhodes) – 5:10
By the Time I Get to Phoenix (Jimmy Webb) – 18:42

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Think about how crazy this is for a moment: Stax loses Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays to a plane crash and the rights to their back catalog (and, later, Sam & Dave) to Atlantic. Without their biggest stars and their best session group, Stax executive Al Bell takes a desperate but necessary gamble: in an attempt to build an entirely new catalog out of scratch, he schedules dozens of all-new albums and singles to be recorded and released en masse over the course of a few months. And out of all of those records, the album that puts the label back on the map is a followup to a chart dud, recorded by a songwriter/producer who wasn’t typically known for singing, where three of its four songs run over nine and a half minutes. And this album sells a million copies. If it weren’t for the New York Mets, Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul would be the most unlikely comeback story of 1969.

Since then, the album’s had an odd reevaluation process: it hit #8 on the pop charts and #1 on the R&B charts, but also hit #1 on Billboard’s Top Jazz Albums chart– which alarmed partisans of Miles Davis and Sly Stone alike. After another couple of albums in its crossover-friendly, string-drenched vein, Rolling Stone declared Isaac Hayes an enemy of all that was good about soul music in the early 1970s; decades later, a generation reared on hip-hop reverse-engineered the beats on Pac’s “Me Against the World” or PE’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” and discovered an original brilliance. Now, after a listen to this new reissue 40 years later, Hot Buttered Soul might still seem a little historically counterintuitive. It stood as a newer, funkier phase of Southern soul, but it hinged on a sound more opulent than the most sharp-suited Motown crossover bid. It’s an exercise in melodrama and indulgence that lays it on so heavy it’s impossible not to hear it as anything but the stone truth. And it’s an album whose edited-down singles– both of which went top 40 pop– sounded more like trailers for the real thing. (Said single edits are included here and can be safely ignored.)

Yet the success of Hot Buttered Soul owed a bit to a classic crossover formula: start with an easy-listening-friendly pop staple, keep the orchestral sweetness, but layer on a shining veneer of psychedelic R&B, then stretch it out with some soul-jazz vamping and nail it down with a voice that hits like a velvet sledgehammer. Hayes demanded full creative control for this album, and his auteurism resulted in a luxurious rawness that soul artists would scramble to catch up with for years. It wasn’t exactly an unprecedented sound, however, and in its own extravagant way Hot Buttered Soul might be to the end of the 60s what Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was seven years previous: an album that redrew the parameters for R&B’s high-class populism.
by Nate Patrin

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