Isaac Hayes' long out-of-print 1976 album Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak) makes its CD debut, courtesy of Concord Music Group. Serious Hayes fans have reason to rejoice, as a piece of the late legend's discography is now restored. Casual fans may be disappointed at how dated this genre exercise now sounds. This isn't the place to begin in Hayes' catalog, but it boasts some modest pleasures nonetheless.
The mid-to-late 1970s found numerous soul, funk, and R&B artists watering down their music to meet the commercial demand for disco. Of course, the primary purpose of disco was to give people something to dance to. The sameness of the genre helped to burn it out fairly quickly, leaving in its wake album after album of undistinguished grooves. Thankfully, Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak) contains a few real gems that break from disco traditions and stand apart.
These seven compositions are all Hayes' originals. The best among them is "The Storm Is Over," with a message of optimism and a chorus that provides a strong hook. "God's giving us sunny days again," Hayes sings. He sounds like he truly feels it. "Lady Of the Night" is a stellar ballad, an ode to a prostitute who reminds the singer of his late wife. The lyric is delivered tenderly, with Hayes asking, "What do you want out of life? A true love or a higher price?"
The rest of the album is a mixed bag. The title track opens the set with approximately three minutes of party noise before we hear any actual music. It amounts to wasted space. "Let's Don't Ever Blow Our Thing" is another strong ballad, though less emotionally involving than "Lady Of the Night." "Music To Make Love By" bumps along at a nice pace, with Hayes' declaring that "certain kinds of music bring out the beast in me." Some of these disco grooves are a little generic, but that one more than gets by on a solid groove and sexually charged vocal.
Concord has recreated the original vinyl's gatefold cardboard sleeve, and I can't applaud that decision. There's nothing worse than trying to dig a CD out of a tight sleeve, invariably leaving fingerprints on the disc. But the newly written liner notes are excellent, providing some context for Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak). The sound quality is quite nice too, with a rich bass end that bolsters this collection of largely forgotten grooves.