By 1977, much had changed for Isaac Hayes. Stax where he’d enjoyed the most successful period of his career, had been declared bankrupt. He’d then signed to ABC and while his first two albums 1973s Joy and 1975s Chocolate Chip had sold well, his next three albums hadn’t sold well. His 1975 foray into disco with Disco Connection hadn’t proved popular. Things improved slightly with 1976s Groove-A-Thon. Juicy Fruit, released in 1976, reached just number 124 in the US Billboard 200 and number eighteen in the US R&B Charts. This would be his last album for ABC. Salvation however, came in the shape of another music legend, Dionne Warwick. She too, was at a crossroads in her career, suing Bacharach and David, who’d been key to making her a star back in her Scepter Records days. They were no longer active as songwriters or producers, so the hits had dried up for Dionne. Neither was Dionne happy with the terms of her recording contract with Warner Bros, which she’d signed back in 1970. It had been six long years since she’d had a hit. So when Isaac and Dionne’s managers first kicked around the idea of the pair embarking on a concert tour both singers welcomed the idea. The tour kicked off in spring 1976, with both singers anxious, wondering whether they were still box office draws. They shouldn’t have worried, the tour was a huge success. A recording of a show in The Fabulous Fox Theatre, Atlanta was recorded and released as A Man and  A Woman in 1977. It will be rereleased on SoulMusic Records on 21st May 2012 and before I tell you about the music on A Man and A Woman, I’ll tell you some of the background to the album.

Having agreed to embark upon a tour together, Isaac and Dionne had to work out how the show would work. Neither singer had previously worked with the other, so although they knew each other, weren’t up to speed with how the other worked. They had to decide on what songs to sing and what musicians to use on the tour. Eventually, they decided to take two rhythm sections and two sets of backing vocalists. They’d join a full string section and would all be onstage at the one time. Now all that was left was to choose the songs for the tour.

Twelve songs were chosen, including a cover of The O’Jays’ Unity penned by Gamble and Huff. My Love a hit for Paul McCartney was another choice, plus a medley of Bacharach and David’s I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself and Walk On Bye. Save A Little Prayer was another track made famous by Dionne. Among the Isaac Hayes tracks were Come Live With Me, Body Language and Chocolate Chip. A fourteen minute medley included I Love Music and Love Will Keep Us Together. While much of A Man and A Woman is made up of duets, both Isaac and Dionne step into the spotlight and shine. This they did, and then some. After the recording of A Man and A Woman at The Fabulous Fox Theatre, Atlanta the album was set for release in 1977.

On the release of A Man and A Woman in 1977 by ABC Records, it reignited interest in both Isaac and Dionne’s career. The album reached number forty-nine in the US R&B Charts and number twenty in the US R&B Charts. After this, Dionne would embark on another successful part of career. This started with 1979s platinum certified Dionne, taking in 1983s Heartbreaker and 1985s Friends. Isaac’s career didn’t become as successful as Dionne’s after the release of A Man and A Woman, but For the Sake Of Love proved more successful than previous albums. Some of Dionne and Isaac’s future success could be credited to A Man and A Woman, which reinvigorated their careers. I’ll now tell you about some of the highlights of A Man and A Woman.

The track that opens A Man and A Woman is the anthemic track Unity, originally a track on The O’Jays 1975 album Family Reunion, penned by Gamble and Huff. It’s an explosive, uplifting opening track. Swathes of lush strings cascade combining with a funky, driving rhythm section while bursts of horns signal the arrival of Dionne and Isaac’s vocal. Together, their vocals are joyous and uplifting. Then Isaac takes over the lead vocal, before Dionne’s soaring, powerful vocal replaces his. Behind them, the strings sweep and swirl, while the rhythm section produce an arrangement that’s dramatic, soulful and funky. Later, when Dionne and Isaac improvise, scatting their way through the track, they put their combined talents and experience to good use, delivering a joyous, uplifting version of a Gamble and Huff classic.

I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself and Walk On By sees Dionne and Isaac combine to sing a duet on two songs they’ve both previously recorded. Isaac sings the lead, while the rhythm section and horns punctuate the arrangement softly and subtly. Backing vocalists sweep in, as Isaac tenderly and emotively delivers the lyrics. Later, when Dionne sings Walk On By, it’s with a sadness, full of regret and heartache. Backing vocalists, wah-wah guitars, lush strings and dramatic bursts of horns accompany her. Then when Isaac’s vocal enters, his voice is has a similar emotion, full of heartache and hurt. Together, they produce a really moving, medley of two Bacharach and David songs, breathing new life and meaning into them both.

My Love was previously a hit for Paul McCartney and Wings, and was a track from his Red Rose Speedway album in 1973. With the lushest of sweeping strings Isaac’s slow, thoughtful vocal enters. He delivers the lyrics softly and beautifully, with subtle backing vocalists accompanying him. As the song progresses, his voice soars, full of emotion, bringing a new meaning to the song. Later, as the band almost stop playing, Isaac takes centre-stage, as he teases the audience with his vocal. Eventually, the band and backing vocalists return, joining Isaac in taking the track to an emotive, dramatic and beautiful crescendo.

By the Time I Get To Phoenix written by Jimmy Webb and Bacharach and David’s I Say A Little Prayer are third medley on A Man and A Woman. Slow swathes of lush strings, flourishes of piano and guitars give way to Dionne’s vocal, as she sings parts of Say A Little Prayer, while Isaac sings parts of By the Time I Get To Phoenix. From there, the interplay between them is stunning. They sing parts of each song, both songs fusing them seamlessly. Although they take turns of singing lead vocal, mostly it’s Isaac that sings lead, with Dionne feeding off Isaac. Behind them, one of the most subtle and beautiful arrangements unfolds. When all this is combined, the result is one of the best tracks on A Man and A Woman.

Feelings and My Eyes Adored You is the next medley on A Man and A Woman. It features beautiful, thoughtful vocals from both Isaac and Dionne. They’re accompanied by just slow, subtle strings, piano and subtle horns on Feelings. On My Eyes Adored Me, the arrangement is still understated, with Issac and Dionne’s vocals full of adoration and passion. Bursts of punchy, horns, percussion and piano accompany them. Then, when they unite, delivering the vocals together, it’s not only, hugely effective, but very beautiful.

Body Language is the first of the songs on A Man and A Woman that Isaac Hayes wrote. Opening with bursts of Shaft, his band settle into a funk laden groove, while Isaac teases the audience. He’s just jiving, rapping really, before eventually, his vocal enters. Dionne accompanies him, answering his call. Her voice is softer, subtle. Meanwhile, his band hit their stride, providing an arrangement that’s funky but soulful, while strings sweep in and horns rasp. This is what Isaac does so well, build a song up, teasing the listener before hitting his stride. For seven minutes, he has the audience, and listener in the palm of his hand. They’re transfixed, enthralled at the man they call Black Moses and Dionne. 

My final choice from A Man and A Woman is Chocolate Chip, the track that closes the album. It’s an eight minute Magnus Opus, with Isaac’s band kicking loose, combining to create the funkiest of backdrops. Wah-wah guitars, rhythm section, bursts of horns and soaring backing vocalists accompany Isaac. His vocal is powerful, sassy and full of confidence. You can sense that Isaac and his band are heading for a big finish. The funk increases as the track progresses. Horns blaze, the funky rhythm section and testifying backing vocalists all play their part. Meanwhile, Isaac’s vocal is frenzied, the blazing horns and backing vocalists answering his call. Over eight minutes Isaac and his band work the audience into a frenzy, saving the best until last. What a way to end the concert and A Man and A Woman.

A Man and A Woman could be referred to as Isaac Hayes and Dionne Warwick’s comeback album. Both artists had their problems before their tour and the recording of A Man and A Woman. The tour and the release of 1977s A Man and A Woman which documents this comeback, proving perfectly that both Isaac and Dionne had so much more to offer the music industry. Together, they fed off each other, one driving the other to even greater heights. With a multitalented band, they produce twelve tracks, a number of which are medleys. On the album, the breath new life and energy into these songs, transforming them, and bringing new meaning to them. After this, Dionne Warwick’s career would go from strength to strength, releasing albums like Dionne, Heartbreaker and Friends. While Isaac’s career never got the same boost, his album sales improved. Their tour proved to their doubters in the music industry that they had so much more to offer. Maybe Isaac and Dionne hadn’t found the last years easy given their problems, but class very definitely is permanent. For anyone whose a fan of either Isaac Hayes or Dionne Warwick, then A Man and A Woman is an album that they’ll love. Similarly, anyone whose a fan of soul, funk and R&B will enjoy A Man and A Woman, which will be rereleased on 21st May 2012. Standout Tracks: Unity, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself and Walk On By, My Love and Chocolate Chip.


A Man And A Woman

A Man And A Woman

1 Comment

  1. smithtowndad

    Nice review. This is a pretty common “bargain bin” album that I threw on for the first time. Dionne Warwick is a guilty pleasure of mine and Issac Hayes of course was one of the greats in his day. Some slow going in some parts of the album but as you point out, they both hit thier stride very nicely. Fun to get some history behind the album. Thanks!

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