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Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul on Craft Recordings Small Batch LP, and Sounding Better Than Ever!

03-27-2024 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 132

Craft Recordings' has just released the sixth installment in their premium Small Batch audiophile LP series with a reissue of Isaac Hayes' 1969 sophomore effort, Hot Buttered Soul. Long considered a landmark release of Sixties soul music, Hot Buttered Soul created the template that would serve as the launching pad for Isaac Hayes' future successes as both an artist and much in-demand record producer. With Hot Buttered Soul, Hayes pushed the boundaries of conventional soul music of the day; the album quickly climbed to number one on the Billboard R&B charts, and peaked at number eight on the Billboard 200 album charts. The album's impressive sales and Gold record status placed Isaac Hayes squarely on the path to superstardom.

Craft's Small Batch series employs a one-step lacquer process that bypasses the more conventional three-step, mother/father lacquer process. Reducing the additional steps allows for a significantly improved level of musical detail, clarity, and dynamics, while greatly reducing surface and groove noise that might otherwise be present in the finished LP. The process also allows for greater consistency in limited quantity record pressing runs. Small Batch LPs are pressed at RTI using Neotech's VR900 Supreme vinyl; this premium reissue is strictly limited to 3000 copies worldwide. All Small Batch LPs are fully all-analog, 180 gram, AAA pressings that have been cut from the original master tapes by Bernie Grundman. The level of quality Craft employs with the Small Batch series guarantees that each record will offer the listener an LP playback experience that's as close to the original recording as possible.

Small Batch LPs are individually numbered and encased in a foil-stamped, embossed, linen-wrapped slipcase that features a high-quality acrylic inset of the original album cover artwork. The slipcase design is a rare example of form and function coming together, and features a unique, frictionless ribbon pull tab that allows for effortless removal of the LP jacket from the protective outer shell. The slipcase design is unusual among high-end LP releases, but it's handsome, exceptionally well-executed, and works flawlessly. The tip-on outer jacket features the original, high-resolution artwork sourced from Concord's vaults, and the 180 gram LP is inserted into an archival-quality, non-scratching inner sleeve that protects the LP from paper dust and static buildup. It's a perfectionist touch that reissues of this caliber demand and audiophiles everywhere deserve. This Small Batch reissue of Hot Buttered Soul also features a detailed insert with all pertinent technical information and new liner notes from music writer and journalist A. Scott Galloway. Craft's Small Batch reissue of Hot Buttered Soul has limited availability, and can only be ordered from Craft's web store HERE, and also from Acoustic Sounds HERE.

Isaac Hayes, Hot Buttered Soul. 180 Gram Craft Recordings Small Batch LP, $109 MSRP

Isaac Hayes solo debut, 1968's Presenting Isaac Hayes, was poorly received commercially and got very little attention from the critics. Hayes was unhappy with how his debut record had been handled by the label, but had prepared himself mentally for a return to his usual duties with Stax Records as a producer and songwriter. When the Stax label was suddenly cut free from Atlantic Records, they also lost most of their back catalog of releases in the process. Label head Al Bell encouraged all Stax label artists to rapidly record new albums—including Isaac Hayes. Hayes was hesitant to record another album, but to sweeten the deal, Bell granted him complete artistic control over the new record. 

Isaac Hayes assembled a team of crack musicians at Memphis' Ardent Studios to lay down the base tracks. The lineup featured Hayes on lead vocals, Hammond organ and keyboards; he'd also enlisted the Bar-Kays for the project, which consisted of Michael Toles on guitar, James Alexander on bass, and Willie Hall on drums. Harold Beane provided the fuzzed-out guitar solo on "Walk On By," and co-producer Marvell Thomas also provided keyboards throughout the recording sessions. Alan Jones and Al Bell also co-produced, with Bell serving as the executive producer; Terry Manning engineered the sessions. The studio sessions ran from March to May 1969; strings and horns were recorded at United Sound Studios in Detroit, and the final album mix was done at Tera Shirma Studios, also in Detroit. Hot Buttered Soul hit the streets in June 1969, and debuted with impressive sales and positive critical reviews.

The Small Batch LPs Offer an Exceptional Listening Experience!

You can see the components in my audio systems by clicking on my name in the header above. I used my all-analog system to evaluate Hot Buttered Soul; it's just been upgraded with a pair of Vanguard Scout loudspeakers, which are superb, stand mounted compact monitors in the same vein as classic British designs like the LS3/5A's. I'm using them in tandem with a Vanguard Caldera 10 subwoofer in lieu of the KLH Model Five loudspeakers that usually occupy the analog room. That setup also incorporates the excellent new PS Audio Stellar phono preamp, and the loudspeakers are powered by the PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier. I've just upgraded the amplifier with a quad of premium Gold Lion KT77 power tubes and a pair of vintage, NOS (New Original Stock) Brimar 12AU7 output tubes, both of which provide an impressive uptick in my analog sound quality. LP playback was handled by the ProJect Classic turntable that's mounted with an Ortofon Quintet Bronze moving coil cartridge. RTI's Neotech VR900 Supreme vinyl 180 gram LP was flat and perfectly centered, and was beautifully glossy with no visible surface imperfections. Playback was impressively quiet, and the sound quality yielded by the Craft Small Batch LP was nothing short of exceptional. 

I've always had an affinity for the music of Isacc Hayes—I mean, who on this planet didn't groove to "The Theme From Shaft" back in the Seventies and waaaay beyond—but I have to admit, I'd never heard this album. At least, I'd never heard all of it! As side one begins, the intense crack of the drums leads into a heavy Hammond organ and orchestral intro that segues into one of the most crushingly authentic, fuzzed-out psychedelic guitar solos ever, and when the female background singers shout "Walk, Walk!" over the proceedings, it was like—oh hell yes, I've definitely heard this before! And of course, the minute Hayes starts singing "If you see me walking down the street…" you immediately realize you're hearing an ultra soulful take on the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic "Walk On By"—which Dionne Warwick had scored a major hit with less than five years earlier. If you've never heard Isaac Hayes' version, it's an artistic triumph in every level, and as offered on Craft's new Small Batch LP, is also a demonstration quality track that will show off the capabilities of a high-end audio system to the nth degree! From the moment the needle dropped onto the LP, I literally froze for the track's entire twelve-minute run time, sitting there motionless and spellbound by a recording that is able to transcend five-plus decades and still totally rocked my world! I've heard parts of this track sampled on countless albums, and I've also heard it in movie soundtracks as well—certain bits of the tune are literally ingrained in my consciousness. Isaac Hayes' version of "Walk On By" is perhaps the penultimate heavy soul track of an entire generation!

"Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic" is the only Issac Hayes' original on the album, and it's also an emboldened and lengthy exploration of late-Sixties sexuality. Once Hayes makes it beyond the lyrical phase of the track, it segues into an extended, blues-drenched guitar, bass, and drums vamp laid down by the Bar-Kays. His constant screams and shouts overlay the propulsive beat of the drums as he pounds the keys of his piano furiously. And as the wah-wah of Michael Toles' guitar joins in, the track accelerates into an raucous jam that powers through the remaining time of the track, which clocks in at over nine minutes! It's a thrilling summation to side one, which is a thoroughly gripping listen from start to finish.

Side two features a pair of covers, opening with the Charles Chalmers/Sandra Rhodes track "One Woman," where Isaac Hayes offers his take on a love triangle that's tearing apart everyone involved. It's probably the weakest track on the album, but the exceptionally good recording lifts it above the ordinary. The album closes with its longest track, which at nineteen-minutes-plus offers Hayes' almost unrecognizable take on Jimmy Webb's classic "By The Time I Get To Phoenix." Which Glen Campbell had popularized only a couple of years prior to Hot Buttered Soul's release. The track starts with a spoken intro delivered in Hayes' trademarked baritone voice, as he pontificates on "the power of love" for no fewer than ten minutes or so. And as the spoken intro continues, Bar-Kays drummer Willie Hall begins to delicately tap on a cymbal, as Hayes' delivery approaches that of a gospel sermon. A drumbeat from Hall announces the actual beginning of the meat of the song, and as the remainder of the band and orchestra join in, Isaac Hayes' vocal delivery becomes much more lyrical. Hayes definitely puts his own indelible stamp on the song, which is a slow burn from the quiet start to a more fully orchestrated  finale.

Side two of the album isn't as bracing or quite as musically striking as side one, which grabs your attention and doesn't let go for the duration. But the overall presentation of Hot Buttered Soul is very much in keeping with trends of late-Sixties and Seventies albums that often offered a "hard" side and "soft" side—that's definitely the case here. But on side two, the incredible quiet of Craft's Small Batch LP allows you to hear very deeply into the quiet deliberation of Isaac Hayes' presentation, especially on "By The Time I Get To Phoenix." Where his mostly spoken intro is delivered with impressive fidelity and zero noise, and the realism of Hayes' distinctive baritone is remarkable. In retrospect, it's not really a surprise that based on the less than radio-friendly lengths of all the tunes, the album got very little exposure in terms of airplay, but the word definitely got out and propelled Hot Buttered Soul's impressive sales.

If you've never heard this album—much like me prior to this review—you owe it to yourself to hear it in the ultimate version Craft Recordings has given us with this excellent Small Batch LP. Those Small Batch LPs tend to sell out quickly, especially great ones like Hot Buttered Soul, so don't hesitate too long to pull the trigger! Hearing this reissue surprised me with its incredible goodness, and it comes very highly recommended!

Craft Recordings


All images courtesy of Craft Recordings and the author