Friday, February 8, 2013

Isaac Hayes: Branded

When you're going to release an album from an iconic singer, you use an iconic image on the cover, right? So for Isaac Hayes' first album in seven years, and his first (and last, as it turns out) studio album, Virgin's Pointblank label featured a cropped-in closeup of Ike's shaven head and sunglasses -- an image instantly identifiable to soul lovers everywhere.

Also instantly identifiable was Hayes' voice, that signature deep baritone that could shout, whisper and coo without dropping a beat. By the time this album was released in 1995, he'd become a genuine Godfather of soul and hip-hop, taking his place up next to George Clinton in the halls of the Funky Fathers.

Some comebacks can be disappointing. Not this one - Ike was in full form, with his signature brass and wah-wah chuck-a-lucking in the background, strings swelling, and the musical canvas awash with love, sex and booty-bumpin'. Just like the Hayes of yore.

The disc starts off with one of Hayes' signature extended atmosphere pieces, 12 minutes' worth of mood setting to get you into the proper frame of mine, y'see. Although listed on the jacket as four individual tracks, the pieces flow smoothly into each other, getting the groove lubed up for what's to come.

After the opener comes another Hayes signature: a slowed-down, extended vamp on the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer In The City." And when Isaac intones "Back of my neck gettin' dirt and gritty," you'd best believe it - you can feel the sweat and heat in every syllable. As the album moves along, Hayes plays tribute to himself, with an almost note-for-note reprise of "Soulsville", one of the standout cuts from the "Shaft" movie soundtrack he scored nearly 30 years before. But just so you know he ain't no has-been, he launches into the album's closer, "Hybperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic", a 12-minute chunk of sharp hip-hop funk that features a sharp female chorus chanting the title 'word' at regular intervals while Ike raps on. It's since become a club classic.

It's a tour-de-force, and it turned out to be his last. After this disc, Hayes put recording on the back burner while he romanced his second love, acting. He was recording tracks for a new album in 2008 when high blood pressure claimed him; the album was never finished. He was just 65. "Branded" stands as one of his best, and a testimonial to a multi-talented, multi-faceted career.

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