February 2006

Isaac Hayes - Ultimate Isaac Hayes: Can You Dig It?
Stax Records 3SCD-88043-2
Format: CD and DVD-Video
Released: 2005

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Image Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

The first time Isaac Hayes went into the Stax Records studios in Memphis, he and two members of the label’s crack rhythm section -- bassist "Duck" Dunn and drummer Al Jackson, Jr. -- had been lured away from a company party by label executive Al Bell. Hayes was never happy with the album that resulted, Presenting Isaac Hayes (1968), but when he returned to the studio a year later, he made a record that initiated Stax Records’ final burst of chart activity. Hot Buttered Soul (1969) was as far as you could get from the blues-based soul Stax was known for. It was sophisticated, urban, and it had four lengthy tracks that let Hayes spin out a deep groove.

It was also enormously successful. Hot Buttered Soul hit on the pop, R&B, jazz, and easy-listening charts, and it proved that an R&B artist could sell LPs in significant numbers. Hayes followed it with The Isaac Hayes Movement and To Be Continued, both of which enjoyed similar success. All three recordings combined urbane smoothness with jazz improvisation and R&B, to which Hayes added monologues that were funny, profound, and charming kitsch.

In 1971, Hayes wrote the score for Shaft, which won two Grammies and an Academy Award. Ultimate Isaac Hayes: Can You Dig It? contains two CDs of selections from the recordings mentioned here, as well as tracks from additional recordings Hayes did for Stax and other labels. Add a few previously unreleased live cuts from 1972 and excellent remastering by Joe Tarantino and you have an essential collection. A bonus DVD contains performances from the film Wattstax and animation from South Park of Hayes (as Chef) singing "Chocolate Salty Balls."