El Michels Affair

Walk On By: A Tribute to Black Moses

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After initially being issued as a digital and vinyl-only release, the El Michels Affair tribute to the dearly departed Isaac Hayes made its way into the CD realm over a year later. Beautifully executed, the short set tackles a variety of Hayes tunes, well-known and more obscure. The exciting string arrangement from "Shaft" is missing and that memorable call-and-response with the backup lady singers are absent, but it wouldn't be a respectable cover if it mimicked everything down the line. Leon Michels and crew also decided to slow the pace down slightly. It gives it a less urgent approach, but it still manages to evoke a marked coolness. Surprisingly, three numbers from the lesser-known Tough Guys soundtrack, another film for which Hayes scored, make up half the set. "Run Fay Run" may well be the most exciting of any of them just because of its scintillating conga and percussion workout that serves as the opener. The horns that build on top throughout the song add new levels of excitement before the percussion comes back to the front. "Red Rooster" maintains composure throughout, as it is built on a repetitive guitar riff that all other instruments fall around. Midway through the song a short drum fill shifts the gears into a new rhythm and the bassline continues to remain ever so steady. "Walk on By" is presented in two versions. The latter is pared down to 4:17 while the full version is 6:12. Both fall short time-wise compared to the epic 12-minute original that has strings galore. The cover version tries its best to get to a climax and does a decent job of doing so before the escalating horns pull back and the bass pulsates. Instead of a lead guitar solo, Leon Michels utilizes an organ. This results in a jazzy servicing that relies less on heated improvisation and more on maintaining the groove. Hayes was a consummate writer and was interested in utilizing multiple techniques and approaches throughout his storied career. El Michels Affair keep that tradition alive by trying to incorporate their own spin. Altogether, the dramatic tension may be slightly deflated, but the outstanding band is on a high plateau. Soul and jazz music fans won't want to walk on by this one.

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