Isaac Hayes' 1971 album Black Moses has been recently reissued by Concord Music Group. Unfortunately, this new 2-CD set doesn't correct the track order problems that were present on earlier reissues. It's rather puzzling that the producers of this release wouldn't take the time to get it right, especially after going to such pains to recreate the original vinyl album's packaging. The final three tracks on disc one should actually be the closing trio of songs on the album. It should've been obvious to anyone who can read Roman numerals, as "Ike's Rap IV" precedes "Ike's Rap II" and "III" on these discs. Getting the track order correct should be one of the most basic goals of any release, especially when reissuing a classic album.
Simply put, the packaging is a nightmare. I hate cardboard sleeves for CDs to begin with, which invariably show shelf-wear over time. There is no reason to force the buyer to touch the disc surface each time it is removed and replaced. Trying to force the disc in and out of a very tight sleeve doesn't help matters. The idea here was to recreate the crucifix-shaped gatefold picture of Hayes that the original LP's jacket unfolded into. It's a good idea in concept, but not practical in execution. Silly as it may sound, I actually couldn't even find one of the discs for a while as I wrestled with unfolding the many panels. Folding the thing back up properly is no picnic either. I've never come across a more complicated CD case and hope to never encounter one again.
I prefer not to focus on such things when the music, of course, is ultimately what's most important. But these problems are so egregious, I felt it was worth really hammering the points home.
Anyone unfamiliar with this album, be forewarned: it isn't a party record. Black Moses is a slow, plaintive, meditative ninety-plus minutes of music that asks the listener to be patient and listen closely. The overall sound is lush and expansive. Most of the space is dedicated to covers of other songwriter's material. In many cases, the results are brilliant. Most commercially successful is Hayes' reworking of the Jackson 5 hit "Never Can Say Goodbye," written by Clifton Davis. In my opinion, it is the definitive version of the song and Hayes was rewarded with considerable chart success. Burt Bacharach and Hal David's catalog is visited twice, both times yielding tremendous results. "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" features a deeply felt vocal from Hayes. "(They Long To Be) Close To You" is even better, stretching the limits of the song at nearly nine minutes, but anchored by the sincerity of the delivery. Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times" is another striking interpretation of what might've been considered unlikely material.
The theme throughout is heartbreak. The expanded – and very informative – liner notes feature some quotes from Hayes, explaining that his marriage was falling apart when he made this album. There is deep regret and longing expressed in this lengthy exploration of failed relationships. It's a strong album from one of soul music's great artists. I only wish Concord had corrected the order of the songs (the liner notes even mention how much care was invested by Hayes in the sequencing).