|Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul|
|Music Disc Reviews SACD|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Tuesday, 22 April 2003|
Long before Isaac Hayes was known by Gen-X and Gen-Y as “Chef” on South Park, he was one of the world’s most soulful solo recording artists. His pipes extended to places that only the likes of Barry White could reach, while his tunes and song styling made him more all-round entertainer than mere vocalist. As a songwriter having who grew up in Memphis, he had seen early success penning such big hits as “Hold On!, I’m Comin’ ” and “Soul Man.”
1969’s Hot Buttered Soul was Hayes’ breakout record as a solo artist. It was a far cry from other soul-pop records of the time. In 1969, if you wanted to have a “hit” record, you needed to play by radio’s rules and rule number one was no songs over three minutes long (The Doors were the first to break this standard). The shortest song on Hot Buttered Soul is 5:08. Today, many of Hayes’ tracks are still not staples on soul and R&B oldies stations around the country.
Hot Buttered Soul kicks off with “Walk On By,” which comes out of the gate with a lush instrumentation of strings (possibly a precursor to the Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff “Philly Sound”), electric keyboards paired with dirty guitars and a subtle rhythm section. At as long as 12:00 in length, these songs take a while to get going but when they do, Hayes’ vocals work like a tractor beam to your speakers. His voice sounds rich, resonant and powerful. His rhythm section, the Bar-Kays, add in subtle little touches that are more evident than ever in SACD, thanks to the added resolution. Slight fills on the snare and cymbals come to life on a good music playback system.
In direct comparison to the CD version of the record, the SACD is obviously a better-sounding option. While 1969 was not the pinnacle of recording technology, the folks at Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs who reworked the record seemingly smoothed out the brightness on the highs without sacrificing any openness or air. The bass is just a bit tighter than on the CD. There is a notable increase in resolution when the songs get more complex. A few verses into “Walk On By,” the entire band is going for it with guitar solos mixed into the background as horns rage in the foreground. The SACD version fights the temptation to fold down the sound stage more than the CD version does.
A funkier tune called “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” comes next and at 9:36, it was not a radio hit but it took the Album Rock concept set forth by The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and extended it into soul music. The use of wah-wah pedal-effected guitars made the song sound more like 1970s Stevie Wonder-esque pop with a strong blues influence. Once again, Hayes’ vocals take on a dimensionality that you’d expect from an “audiophile” recording. However, Hot Buttered Soul has what most audiophile music is missing – feeling.
Hayes, especially in his live shows, would become famous for his song styling, which is evident in his cover of Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” Hayes sets up the tune to be like one of his Ike’s Rap tracks that would appear on later albums, with a huge, stripped-down introduction. “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” is a story as much as it is a song and Ike artfully takes his time in sharing the details of a man who has been wronged by his woman over and over, but keeps taking her back. Well, this time he is heading back home – presumably leaving Los Angeles for somewhere in the South. “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” proves a point about singing that many artists could learn from today – you cannot live without good songwriting. You can interpret songs any way you like, but you can’t fake a great song. In this epic musical event, Hayes takes you through the unfortunately familiar pain of an ugly heartbreak in high-resolution musical detail. It is the kind of tune that can suck you in and suspend disbelief like a movie. Hayes’ performance is that riveting.
Hot Buttered Soul is among the top five best soul albums I have ever heard. It bridges the recording and musical breakthroughs from the late 1960s to set up a foundation for R&B and soul for an entire decade. The Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs version of this record is a worthy investment for music fans and audio enthusiasts alike. As a hybrid SACD, it can play flawlessly on every CD or DVD machine out there. But the record takes on more life as an SACD, assuming you have a machine that can perform the feat of DSD playback from SACD. This is a performance worthy of the resolution of the SACD format, as well as the extra care that goes into making the remastered disc worthy of bearing the Mobile Fidelity name.