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Posted: July 01, 2009

The Hot Buttered Soul of Isaac Hayes plus R.E.M. and Ray Charles

Soul, country and rock classics revisited

Mike Cote

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ISAAC HAYES Hot Buttered Soul (Stax)
You don’t need Jim James of My Morning Jacket to sell you on the merits of Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul – the groundbreaking 1969 album stretched the boundaries of the genre – but James’ endorsement in the liner notes of this reissue could help ensure Hayes will be remembered by the next generation of rock fans as something more than the voice of Chef on “South Park.”

Although Hayes had made his mark writing and producing hit songs for other Stax artists, the singer eschewed the format for this disc, focusing on just four songs, elevating the familiar Burt Bacharach/Hal David hit “Walk on By” to a fully orchestrated 12-minute opus and Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” into an 18-minute meditation on the power of love and redemption (featuring a spoken-word introduction that builds tension for the song’s first nine minutes.) Two bonus tracks tacked onto to this edition present single edits of these songs, but they need to be heard in their entirety to be fully appreciated.

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R.E.M. Reckoning: Deluxe Edition (Universal)
During the intro to “7 Chinese Brothers,” one of 16 live cuts included in this double-disc  version of R.E.M.’s second full-length, lead singer Michael Stipe singles out a fan for a dedication: “This song is for the guy that  broke his leg coming in tonight and went to the hospital and came back. Hold up your crutches, guy.”

The level of intimacy that quote suggests underscores the many years R.E.M. spent in the trenches in the early ’80s as an indie band, forging a bond with it audience that made it a strong concert draw long before Top 40 hits made the band big enough to headline Red Rocks. 

With Reckoning, R.E.M. continued to galvanize the hard-driving sound of its Murmur debut, all wrapped in Peter Buck’s shimmering, jangly guitars, and still sounding mysterious thanks to Stipe’s vocal mumble and cryptic lyrics (such as the “Jefferson, I think we’re lost” of "Little America"). But the band also revealed a knack for crafting the kind of pop hooks that helped it scratch away at wider radio airplay with “Sorry” and “Rockville,” both songs augmented by a bright barrelhouse piano that contrasted sharply with the yearning in Stipe’s vocals. A live version of the latter caps the live disc, essentially leaving the best for last.

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RAY CHARLES Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Volumes 1 & 2 (Concord)
RAY CHARLES A Message from the People (Concord)
One of the saddest sights during the going-out-of-business sale at Virgin Megastore in Denver was the pile of unsold box sets, among them several copies of Ray Charles’ entire Atlantic Records output housed in a replica of an old-fashioned record player, a bygone wrapped inside another bygone era. 

Two recent reissues celebrate Charles’ phenomenal post-Atlantic output . With Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, a perennial favorite on “best records of all time lists,” Charles proved that his music had no boundaries and that country classics dressed up with orchestration and lush background vocals, such as the Everly Brothers pop hit “Bye Bye Love” and the Don Gibson ballad “I Can’t Stop Loving You” were as soulful as the sides he cut for Atlantic. He could even make Hank Williams swing, transforming “Just a Little Lovin’” into a cool slice of up-tempo R&B . This reissue pairs the 1962 LP with the follow-up he recorded shortly afterward.

By the time of Message from the People, from 1972, Charles was less of a revolutionary, but this collection of topical songs, featuring arrangements by Quincy Jones, Mike Post and Sid Feller, does include his stellar version “America the Beautiful,” which singer Michael McDonald was emulating the night Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination at Invesco Field.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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