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Isaac Hayes, Can You Dig It?

You know it’s the holiday season when hordes of greatest hits packages hit store shelves. While some are easily recognized as cash grabs, this impressive two CD/DVD set comprehensively looks at and exposes Isaac Hayes’s influential and groundbreaking work. The timing couldn’t be better. Younger generations merely know Hayes as the voice of Chef (from the cartoon series South Park), and not the critically acclaimed artist he was from 1969 to 1975. Generally, Can You Dig It? doesn’t follow any real timeline from the Hayes discography, which blurs his development as an artist. Producer Rob Bowman merely creates a collage of Hayes’ work from key albums Hot Buttered Soul (1969), Shaft (1971), Chocolate Chip (1975), and several greatest hits releases. Disc one wisely opens with the instantly recognizable hi-hat riff and pioneering wah-wah guitar from the Academy Award-winning “Theme From Shaft.” From there, Can You Dig It? shuffles its way into the nine-minute opus of funk, “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic”(which takes its sweet time to build into an orgy of raging keyboards). Other highlights include “Ain’t That Loving You,”“Never Say Goodbye,” “Precious, Precious,” and “ I Stand Accused.” All educate the listener on the soul of R&B. Disc two continues with soulful, funk inspired tracks. Highlights include versions of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You),” the twelve-minute blues psychedelic- jam “Walk On By,” and the live track “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” “Sparrow” surprisingly displays Hayes’ versatility as a soul-singer as his baritone voice reaches octaves higher then it should (to the fans’ joyful reaction). Unfortunately, the DVD portion of this package should have been left out, as it simply contains three live tracks: a quickie version of “Theme From Shaft,” a perfect, studio-like rendition of “Soulsville,” and an acceptable take on “Rolling Down A Mountainside.” However, the live sequences do show the extreme popularity of Hayes – the show was recorded in 1972 at a sold out L.A. Coliseum, with Hayes wearing red spandex, truck driver glasses, and draped in gold chains. But of course, one last option on the DVD is to play the South Park track “Chocolate Salty Balls,” which degrades the whole project. Four stars for the CDs, 1.5 stars for the DVD. (Stax Records)

Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Stars

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