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Music Review: Isaac Hayes – Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak)

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Every well-known band and singer released a disco album in the mid and late 1970s —  Cher, Ethel Merman, the BeeGees, and Broadway's Guys and Dolls went disco. However, even artists who should have known better fell victim to the disco bandwagon. Isaac Hayes traded in his smooth and funky signature sound for watered down dance floor beats in 1976 with Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak). Concord Music Group issued a remastered CD version of this long out of print album earlier this year, along with a remastered Black Moses. Juicy Fruit, which was originally released on Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul imprint after he parted company with Stax.

“Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak )” certainly stays true to the genre’s maneuverings The title song begins with three minutes of Hayes and his bandmates regaling an attractive female. By the time, the actual song starts, it plods on for awhile with lots of yelping and repetitive lyrics over synthesized generic disco beats straight out of Studio 54. Not the best opener, but a period piece for sure. “Music to Make Love By’ has squiggly keyboards,  blended, high-pitched female backup vocals and cheesy lyrics de rigeur for most disco songs. It sounds like any "Me Decade" slow dance song if you don’t listen very long and recognize the vocalist.

Of course, technically, the music holds up; even lesser efforts from Hayes and back-up band The Movement provide the licks, but Juicy Fruit lacks the cohesiveness of Black Moses or inventiveness of Hot Buttered Soul. It sounds phoned in compared to Hayes' other works, though it has a few good moments. Buoyed by spicy, commanding percussion, and Errol Thomas’ funky bassline, “Love Me or Lose Me” retains a funky groove as Hayes issues an ultimatum to an ambivalent lover. 

Yet, the ballads redeem Juicy Fruit, faring far better than the dance tunes. The delicate “Lady of the Night” a heartbreaking tale of a widower’s love for a prostitute showcases Hayes at his romantic best. “What do you want out of life/true love or a higher price/what are you searching for for”. This is the tender, sensual sound we identify with Isaac Hayes.

The CD cover, an approximation of the original gatefold sleeve, is the most intriguing thing about Juicy Fruit. It features Hayes and a group of scantily clad Carmen Miranda imitators wading in a pool. The inside cover shows Hayes and the models with their unmentionables 'round their ankles. So colorfully tacky and utterly '70s!

Bill Dahl's liner notes trace the album's genesis, and contain a great mid-70s pic of Hayes with gold chains wrapped round his bald head onstage with dashiki and caftan wearing band members. Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak) reminds us how the frivolity of the disco explosion caught even serious musicians off-guard. It’s a footnote in Hayes' long career, and remains more of a curiosity than a full-blooded album.

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