Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Isaac Hayes - Shaft (Music From The Soundtrack) (1971)

He's a complicated man....


Released July 1971

This is the best known of several "Blaxploitation" movie soundtracks from the early/mid seventies and, despite its emphasis, particularly at the beginning of the album, on some mainly short-ish instrumental interludes from the movie, they are very good ones. So much so that they never really feel like background music. The instrumentation and musicianship from The Bar-Kays, under the direction of Hayes, is top notch and the sound quality excellent. The good thing about this album is that whereas some soundtrack albums are often not an easy listen without the movie to watch at the same time, this one has the music standing alone. You find that you can listen to it quite easily, treating it as an instrumental album. It was initially released as a double album and despite its lack of vocal tracks, proved a good seller. Listening to it, you can understand why. It is a truly excellent piece of work.


1. Theme From Shaft
2. Bumpy's Lament
3. Walk From Regio's
4. Ellie's Love Theme
5. Shaft's Cab Ride
6. Cafe Regio's
7. Early Sunday Morning
8. Be Yourself
9. A Friend's Place
10. Soulsville
11. No Name Bar
12. Bumpy's Blues
13. Shaft Strikes Again
14. Do Your Thing
15. The End Theme                                

Everyone surely knows the opening "Theme From Shaft" by now, full of funk, that killer wah-wah riff, the trumpet lines and those "cool" vocal interjections we love so much. "He's a complicated man, and nobody understands him but his woman...". I always loved that line, indulgently applying it to myself at times (!). Yes, I know, I know.

"Walk From Regio's", although short, has some excellent percussion as does "Bumpy's Lament", while the sweeping strings of "Ellie's Love Theme", enhanced by vibes, provide a jazzy, romantic piece. "Shaft's Cab Ride" has some nice funky wah-wah and a punchy brass backing. There are some extended tracks as well, and the jazzy, brassy funk of "Cafe Regio's" is one of those, very redolent of seventies New York. "Early Sunday Morning" is a delicious, slow, sleepy number, absolutely dripping with atmosphere. It is beautiful at times. This is quality stuff, you don't actually miss the vocals. "Be Yourself" is a chugging, soulful groove with some superb saxophone. Once again, one is pleasantly surprised at just how good it is. "A Friend's Place" is sumptuous as well, with more impressive saxophone soloing.

We eventually get a vocal number in the glorious soul of "Soulsville", with Hayes contributing a lovely, warm, deep vocal. It is simply a wonderful track. "No Name Bar" is a flute and brass dominated number with some funky drumming too. That saxophone is back near the end too, or is a trumpet? Maybe the latter on closer listen. "Bumpy's Blues" is very much what you would imagine when thinking of soundtrack music, but it has to be said that the drums lift it higher than that and the guitar is intoxicating as is the sax, again! "Shaft Strikes Again" is a sweet, melodic Bacharach-style trumpet-driven smoocher. "Now lay down on that couch, honey....".

The album's tour de force is a vocal number, the gargantuan, nineteen-minute "Do Your Thing". Isaac Hayes at his very best. Some of the funky, brassy breaks on here are addictive, particularly when they merge with that searing guitar. Yes, it probably goes on a bit too long, but the interplay around twelve and a half minutes is magnificent. The last couple of minutes are unfortunately made up of unnecessary guitar feedback. "The End Theme" reprises that classic riff from the opener.

This is one of the best soundtrack albums of all time, maybe the best. It never, ever gets tiresome and is instrumentally perfect. I love it and I am not any sort of soundtracks aficionado. It is so evocative of seventies New York. Highly recommended.


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