Isaac Hayes at Wattstax

by: Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes was the final act on the Wattstax music festival bill. Although he was the headliner, prior to this collection only the medley of "Ain't No Sunshine"/"Lonely Avenue" had been made available on the soundtrack album. Over three decades on, this appropriately titled release features the entire Isaac Hayes at Wattstax (2003). The show was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on August 20, 1972, and also included contributions from Eddie Floyd, the Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas and daughter Carla Thomas, as well as William Bell, Jimmy Jones, Albert King, and others. By the time Hayes hit the stage the crowd had swelled to over 112,000, and along with his righteously funkified Isaac Hayes Movement, the Black Moses of Soul delivers one bad mutha of an hour-plus set. After a spirited introduction from Rev. Jesse Jackson, the band leaps headlong into a note-perfect and hard-driving version of "Theme from Shaft" -- complete with orchestration conducted and scored by the terminally funky Onzie Horne, who would also work on Hayes' Live at the Sahara Tahoe (1973). Another Shaft soundtrack inclusion follows with the bleak social balladry of perpetual urban sprawl dubbed "Soulsville." The performance continues with a handful of the best tracks from Black Moses (1971) and includes a slinky and stirring reading of "Never Can Say Goodbye," which he dedicates to "all the lovers who quarrel...sometimes...all the time...and to the lovers who say they never quarrel at all." The fluid wah-wah fretwork of Charlie Pitts is complemented by Emerson Able's soaring flute and Gary Jones' laid-back conga inflections. Sadly, "Part Time Love" is presented sans lead vocals, as the master tapes are either missing or irreparably damaged. However, clearly audible in the appropriate locations are the female backing vocal trio known as Hot, Buttered and Soul. They also add counterpoint to Hayes' spoken introduction rap on the languid "Your Love Is So Doggone Good." While the centerpiece is undoubtedly the quarter-hour "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lonely Avenue" combo with a wailing sax solo from Hayes, not far behind is the tormented angst of "I Stand Accused." In terms of sheer emotion, it is hard to beat his wrenching vocals as he throws himself into the song to a degree not delivered on the Isaac Hayes Movement version. This disc concludes on an inspirational note as Rev. Jackson returns for a rousing invocation and prayer along with Jimmy Jones, who leads a gospel-fueled rendering of "If I Had a Hammer." ~ Lindsay Planer

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