Isaac Hayes' classic soundtrack to Shaft hasn't exactly been hard to find. The original double-album topped the Billboard chart, spun off a #1 Grammy- and Oscar-winning single, and ended up the biggest seller in Stax history. It's been reissued more than a half-dozen times on CD, and more recently it's been available for electronic download. So why another reissue, why now? Primarily because the Stax catalog has come under the control of Concord Records, and the label is, understandably, producing a new round of reissues. Reissues create buzz, press coverage and garner retail space, all of which helps keep catalog evergreens in the green, and keep royalties flowing to artists and their estates.
Reissues also provide a chance to run a classic through updated technology, as is the case with this Bob Fisher full re-master from original analog sources. In addition, Fisher has produced a bonus mix of the title song. The new mix opens with a drumstick click track that was edited from the original, moves Charles Pitts' wah-wah guitar from right to center and deepens the tone (or simply increases the relative volume) of Willie Hall's high-hat riff. Is it a must-have? Not really, given the iconic nature of the original. The new mix is just different enough to make you wonder if something's off, but not different enough to give it a life of its own. A more compelling bonus for collectors would have been the edited, single version of the title song. Audiophiles with an earlier CD of the soundtrack may find Fisher's re-master an improvement, but casual listeners likely don't need to update.
Those who've never heard the full album should give it a spin. Though the score doesn't measure up to the hook-filled catchiness of the single, it wasn't meant to. The soundtrack was written as incidental music in support of the film's action, while the theme was an expositional introduction to the film's main character. The bulk of the score is, as with most film soundtracks, instrumental texture and emotional underlining. Aside from the title theme, the only vocal tracks are "Soulville" and "Do Your Thing," and the latter quickly evolves into a terrific 19-1/2 minute soul jam. The instrumentals create mood that often transcends the moving images for which they were written. "Ellie's Love Theme" is a tender mix of vibes and horns, "Café Regio's" sports a breezy West Coast Jazz feel, and "Be Yourself" has a strong, funky party beat. The score is music worth hearing apart from its role within the film.
Hayes brought his musical ethos to the project, but didn't set out to record the sort of genre-busting explorations of Hot Buttered Soul. The longer tracks find compelling funk and soul grooves, but weren't meant to push directly into the spotlight. Those looking for an album full of "Theme from Shaft" radio hits will be disappointed, but those seeking a helping of Hayes' genius as a composer, arranger, orchestrator, band leader and conductor will enjoy the soundtrack presented here. Even better, Hayes recorded the film soundtrack at MGM in Los Angeles and then re-recorded the soundtrack album at Stax in Memphis for better sound. Other great blaxploitation soundtracks would follow, including Superfly and Across 110th Street, but Shaft remains a primal inspiration. A 20-page booklet filled with photos, credits and new liner notes by Ashley Kahn rounds out this reissue. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]