The release of the musical comedy Soul Men is a bittersweet moment in cinematic history. It marks the final film project of both Bernie Mac, one of the film's co-leads (with Samuel L. Jackson) and Isaac Hayes, who contributed a track to this soundtrack album. They both passed away within days of one another after the film wrapped. The soundtrack for Malcolm D. Lee's film is a mixed bag of newly recorded soul classics, some modern gritty funk, and a couple of neo-soul jams with a variety of vocalists with some interesting instrumental combos backing them. Look no further than John Legend with both Mac and Samuel L. Jackson performing the Dan Penn-Spooner Oldham classic "I'm Your Puppet." Despite the attempts to make it sound vintage with a slew of the industry's finest in the studio group, it still comes across as more Los Angeles than Memphis. Better is Frank Fitzpatrick's "Soul Music," featuring Anthony Hamilton fronting the Bo-Keys. The vocals were recorded in California, but the music is pure Memphis soul grit. Likewise the Booker T. Jones-William Bell cut "Private Number," performed by Chris Pearce and Leela James, where at least the instruments were recorded at Willie Mitchell's Electrophonic Studio in Memphis. Hayes' contribution, a stellar reading of Clifton Davis' "Never Can Say Goodbye," was recorded with his own band in Memphis as well. Other highlights include the loose and funky cover of Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd's "Water" by Me'Shell Ndegéocello, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' killer version of Mickey Newbury's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)," and the Sugarman 3's "You Don't Know What You Mean (To a Lover Like Me)," with Lee Fields fronting the band. The latter two selections aren't original to this soundtrack, but it doesn't matter since they work beautifully in the context of both the album and the film. The set closes with a deep funky take on Hayes' classic "Do Your Thing," with Sharon Leal, Jackson, and Mac backed by a band that includes Patrice Rushen on keyboards. It goes on too long, and neither Mac nor Jackson can sing worth a damn (though Mac is at least in key), but it hardly matters. Leal gets down and the cats don't get in the way much. Like the film, this set is very much a good-time listen that has somewhat limited musical benefit, but perhaps enough vibe and verve to get it across to those who were captivated by the movie.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek