Isaac Hayes
Shaft (Deluxe Edition)

From the opening strains, “Theme From Shaft” is arguably one of the most instantly recognizable songs in the world. Even people who have never seen the movie are quick to blurt out “That Shaft cat is a bad mutha... Shut yo mouth!” It’s one of those songs that is so ingrained in popular culture that it’s easy to forget both the context of the song and how revolutionary it was at the time of its release. When Isaac Hayes released the soundtrack album for Shaft, even he had to be surprised at the response. More then just a movie souvenir, the album became a runaway sales success and Stax’s biggest seller, spending 60 weeks on the charts. It also collected a couple of Grammys and even landed Hayes an Academy Award for Best Original Song, the first for a black composer. It was less an album and more of a cultural movement.

Yet for all the love that the title song gets, as a whole, the album Shaft isn’t nearly as ingrained in the public consciousness. While the album has served as sample fodder, it’s weirdly become one of the most popular records to which no one listens. Perhaps in an effort to set the record straight or maybe to simply cash in on an upcoming holiday season, Stax has released a “deluxe edition.” The deluxe aspect is to be taken with a grain of salt. While the sound has been remastered from the original tapes and there are extensive liner notes, the lone new audio contribution is “Theme From Shaft (2009 Mix).” As an enticement to buy a record that’s readily available, it is as needed as the Police’s “Message In A Bottle (New Classic Rock Mix),” or to put it another way, as necessary as sneaking a flask into a Jameson’s distillery.

But despite any misgivings about the method of delivery, the album itself is pure gold. Perhaps the biggest surprise about Shaft for people who’ve never ventured past the title track is that it’s not jammed packed full of funk and soul jams. Make no mistake: funk does rear its head, particularly in “Soulville,” one of the three vocal tracks on the album, and on the epic 19-minute workout “Do Your Thing.” Still, given the connotations of being associated with one of the foundations of the Blaxplotation movement, you’d expect non-stop wah-wah pedal.

However, Hayes and his backing band for Shaft, the legendary Bar-Kays, bring a jazzy feel to the proceedings, and even some Latin flavor. After so many years of acid jazz and many Beastie Boys instrumental cuts, it may be easy to dismiss the songs. But by doing that you’ll miss the subtle sophistication of Hayes’ arrangements. While Stax is known as the home for raw soul, Hayes always had a touch more polish, and it shows in the smart way he melds the Bar-Kays playing with the orchestra. While the songs were composed as the score to a film, they do stand strongly on their own. Even without the movie, you can picture the “Walk From Regio’s” and the “Early Sunday Morning.” Hayes is more accomplished as a composer than most people realize and this album is testament to that fact.

While this reissue of Shaft seems a little unnecessary, it does provide the opportunity to delve deeper into the album and the rest of Hayes’ catalog, thus discovering one of the best at his best.
Dorian S. Ham