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Isley Brothers

Reviews on this page:

Shout - Twist & Shout! - The Famous Isley Bros. Twisting And Shouting - Soul On The Rocks - Doing Our Thing - The Brothers: Isley - Get Into Something - Giving It Back - Brother, Brother, Brother - 3 + 3 - Live It Up - The Heat Is On - Harvest For The World - Go For Your Guns - Showdown - Go All The Way - Grand Slam - Inside You - The Real Deal - Between The Sheets - Broadway's Closer To Sunset Boulevard - Masterpiece - Caravan Of Love - Smooth Sailin' - Different Drummer - Time Bomb - High Wire - Spend The Night - Tracks Of Life - Live! - Mission To Please - Eternal - Here I Am: Ronald Isley Meets Burt Bacharach - Baby Makin' Music - Invincible - I'll Be Home For Christmas - This Song's For You

Marvin Isley died on June 6, 2010 at a Chicago hospital. We have no further information at this time.
An overlooked band, in spite of the fact that they've been factors on the international scene roughly as long as Fidel Castro. The Isley Brothers started out as a gospel group, then became the bad boys of early 60s rock and roll: loud, fast and raucous, dedicated to excess. Their early hits "Shout" (which they wrote) and "Twist and Shout" (which they didn't) became anthems of the rock and roll spirit. They struggled on a variety of labels, large to small, before deciding in 1964 to start their own T-Neck label. But their first release, "Testify," flopped despite its manic energy and a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar, and they abandoned independence for a run at Motown, where "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)" by Holland-Dozier-Holland became a major hit. But the hits didn't last, and soon they struck out on their own again and reactivated T-Neck. After one big comeback hit ("It's Your Thing"), they had commercial difficulties for a few years, finally hitting the big time in the early 70s after the three original Isleys brought two younger brothers and brother-in-law Chris Jasper on board. After an impressive seven-year run, they ran out of new ideas and afoul of changing tastes, and the three younger musicians formed Isley Jasper Isley. Ronald has kept putting out reasonably successful, far mellower records under the Isley Brothers name - in collaboration with Angela Winbush during their marriage, and with R. Kelly since - usually working with at least a couple of the other surviving brothers.

The fan site bit the dust; now you're stuck with the relentlessly commercial official site. (DBW)

O'Kelly, Ronald, Rudolph Isley, vocals. Ernie Isley, guitar, Marvin Isley, bass, Chris Jasper, keyboards, joined 1973, left 1984. O'Kelly died of a heart attack, 1986.

Shout (1959)
Rushed out to cash in on their first hit single, this has been rereleased with half a dozen bonus tracks as Shout: The RCA Sessions. Produced by Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, pop-oriented fellows who didn't quite get the rock and roll concept, instead leading the boys through revved-up versions of show tunes ("That Lucky Old Sun") and ancient standards ("How Deep Is The Ocean," "St. Louis Blues," "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands"). The backing is unimpressive, a blunt knockoff of Atlantic's late 50's rock sound, and outside of the title track, the vocal arrangements aren't interesting or exciting - they often barrel through the lyrics in anonymous three-part harmony, as if they had to catch a train right after the session. The followup hit "Respectable" (one of the few tracks written by the group) is enjoyably raucous, but the rest of the disc is just embarrassing. (DBW)

Twist And Shout (1962)
The most appalling attempt to pad out a hit single into an album I've ever heard. The title song is present in its original hit version, as an instrumental with overdubbed lead guitar ("Spanish Twist"), retitled with different lyrics ("You Better Come Home"), and god knows where else. The CD release conains an unreleased track ("Crazy Love") and a couple of single sides, "Twistin' With Linda" and "Nobody But Me" (the only numbers written by the Isleys). Full review coming soon. (DBW)

The Famous Isley Bros. Twisting And Shouting (1964)
Despite the cash-in title - there's not even a version of "Twist And Shout" on here, though there is a shameless ripoff called "Surf And Shout" - this is a well-made album with a lot of variety. Out of print for ages, it's recently been reissued as The Complete UA Sessions with several added tracks including the original flop version of "Who's That Lady." About half the tunes are by the Isleys, and they're tuneful and intriguing, either uptempo rock and roll ("She's The One," "Love Is A Wonderful Thing") or moody ballads ("She's Gone"). In contrast to the faceless vocals on the RCA album, here they show off flawless imitations of James Brown ("Please Please Please"), Little Richard ("Long Tall Sally") and Chubby Checker ("Do The Twist") - you may think you're listening to a compilation by the original artists. The arrangements are still close to standard Brill Building, though they mix things up on the acoustic "You'll Never Leave Him" and producer Bert Burns gets a warm, open sound out of the rhythm section. The liner notes claim Jimi Hendrix is all over this thing, though according to Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy, he didn't join the band until two months after this record was in the can. (DBW)

Take Some Time Out (1964)

This Old Heart Of Mine (1966)
Their first Motown LP contains the hit title track, plus the followup "I Guess I'll Always Love You"; almost all composed by Holland-Dozier-Holland. (DBW)

Soul On The Rocks (1967)
Their second and last Motown album, and with Holland-Dozier-Holland virtually on strike, the Isleys were in limbo. It sounds like they ended up with other artist's rejects: Smokey Robinson's two contributions are pleasant but not brilliant ("It's Out Of The Question" and "Little Miss Sweetness") while Norman Whitfield's "Save Me From This Misery," perhaps the best track on the album, sounds like a Temptations outtake. Most of the record was turned over to Ivy Jo Hunter, including the soulful but routine single "Got To Have You Back" - his production is gritty but unimaginative, though he was an early adopter of the fuzz guitar sound that threatened to ruin Motown by the end of the decade ("Whispers Getting Louder"). The Isleys are energetic as usual, and are compelling on the ballad "Behind A Painted Smile," but too often, there's just nothing much to work with. (DBW)

Doing Our Thing (1969)
Free from the Motown cookie cutter, the brothers came up with the early funk hit "It's Your Thing" and a pile of catchy, guitar-heavy soul: "I Know Who You've Been Socking It To," the amazing riffs of "Give The Women What They Want." The sound is somewhere in between James Brown and Sly Stone, though to be fair the Isleys were at least as influential on Stone and Brown as the other way around. They also produce some surprisingly good ballads with more prominent electric guitar than was customary in this period; the only comparison I can think of is Hendrix, though the Isleys are far more conventional. There's not a weak track here, although some are slight - the only complaint is that the running time is so short. Their first Top 40 album. (DBW)

The Brothers: Isley (1969)
This followup is still in a heavy R&B mold, but quite a bit mellower: for the first time, they seem to have outgrown the hectic frenzy of their youth. The singles "Was It Good To You" and "I Turned You On" were moderately successful, but they're just knockoffs of "It's Your Thing" with less memorable riffs. The centerpiece of the record is "The Blacker The Berrie," a long discursive track that never really takes off despite flashes of brilliance, mostly from lead vocalist Ronald; the remake of the 1964 track "My Little Girl" fares better. Despite the tight, fiery sound of the band featured on Doing Our Thing, they were dismissed in favor of younger brothers Marvin and Ernie and cousin Chris Jasper, who weren't yet doing anything distinctive. And since the older brothers took all the songwriting credits and presumably called the shots, it's not yet a true "3+3" record. Fun for fans, with lots of riff tunes like "Holding On" and pleading Ronald vocals like "Get Down Off Of The Train." Future Family Stone member Truman Thomas adds organ. (DBW)

Get Into Something (1970)
Two important things happened here: the older Isleys got more comfortable with their new, more sedate selves, and the younger Isleys - particularly Ernie - stepped into the foreground. The result is a stronger blend of rock and R&B than before, with pure soul ballads like "I Need You So" next to wah-wah'd funk like "If He Can You Can." The opening title track is seven-plus minutes of powerful groove, and on the hard-hitting "Freedom" the brothers unveil a social consciousness that would become more developed in the 70s. There are a few tossoffs like "Take Inventory" and a note-for-note remake of "It's Your Thing" ("Bless Your Heart"), but this obscure record is really worth tracking down - and fortunately, Sony has just issued it on CD. (DBW)

Giving It Back (1971)
A very strange project. The brothers recorded low-key, largely acoustic covers of currently-popular rock tunes, including Hendrix's "Machine Gun," CSNY's "Ohio" and Stephen Stills' "Love The One You're With." They're searching for the understated, powerful blend of rock and soul that carried them through the 70s, but here they just sound like empty imitators, being drowned by the late 60s undertow. The best moment is a rocking version of "Cold Bologna" by Bill Withers; the worst is a sluggish take on War's "Spill The Wine." (DBW)

Brother, Brother, Brother (1972)
This is the kind of thing you can do when you own your record company: the Isleys turn over half the running time to three Carole King covers ("Brother Brother," her then-current hit "Sweet Seasons," and a ten-minute version of "It's Too Late"). All of which are calming and pretty but not particularly moving, similar in style to Givin' It Back but not quite as rough. Those numbers are complemented by some funkier tunes more reminiscent of Get Into Something, including the single "Pop That Thang," "Love Put Me On The Corner," and the propulsive "Work To Do." More than anything, this is transitional, pointing out the direction that was to pay off far better commercially and artistically starting with the next studio album. The younger crop of Isleys played most of the instruments again, but still received no producing or arranging credits. (DBW)

Live (1972)
Several of the band's recent R&B hits are accurately reproduced here ("Work To Do," "It's Your Thing"), but most of the album's real estate is turned over to extended Giving It Back covers. "It's Too Late" benefits from this treatment - with pleading Ronald vocals and screaming Ernie solos, it blows away the studio version. The endless "Ohio/Machine Gun" medley doesn't fare as well: Ernie's Hendrix fixation is least entertaining when he's actually covering Hendrix. "Love The One You're With" and "Lay Lady Lay" aren't embarrassing, but are still rather pointless. Recorded in a low-key setting at New York's The Bottom Line, and the group's evident sense of ease and casual audience banter add a lot of charm. The CD re-release includes the one Isley side from the 1969 various artists double LP Live At Yankee Stadium, and it's a waste of time: lengthy, out-of-breath takes on ""I Know Who You Been Socking It To," "I Turned You On," "It's Your Thing" and "Shout," without any noticable contributions from the younger Isleys and poor sound quality. (DBW)

3 + 3 (1973)
The first album with Isley-Jasper-Isley integrated as full bandmembers, and a huge hit, with the Top Ten single "That Lady," a remake of the 1964 flop "Who's That Lady." They basically stick to the single's formula: slow tempos and soft-rock sentiments (they cover Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breeze" and James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight"), juiced up with loud Hendrix-like guitar work from Ernie, and sensitive but funky keyboards from Chris (the organ was played by Truman Thomas. It's a very different sound from Doing Our Thing, abandoning R&B horn sections and punchy drumming, but they sound perfectly comfortable, whether banging out catchy funk licks ("If You Were There"), getting pleasantly mellow ("The Highways Of My Life"), or grafting a lengthy screaming guitar solo onto "Summer Breeze." Not their most exciting, tuneful or groundbreaking work, it's still accomplished and enjoyable. (DBW)

Live It Up (1974)
Here the Isleys cemented their direction for the rest of the decade: the title track (a single) debuted Ernie's no-nonsense funk drumming and Chris's burbling synth and clavinet, paving the way for the following year's "Fight The Power." There are a few ballads augmented with blazing Ernie solos, including "Midnight Sky" (another single) and the mindblowing, incandescent "Ain't I Been Good To You." There's one more white rock cover (Todd Rundgren's "Hello It's Me"), but even that sounds like an Isleys original, with a lovely Ronald lead. The trouble is, much of the songwriting is thin and predictable ("Brown Eyed Girl," "Need A Little Taste Of Love," even "Live It Up"). Another gold album, this was their last for many years to feature outside musicians: George Moreland (drums), Karl Potter (congas) and Thomas (organ). Associate production and synth programming by Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff, and "Lover's Eve" in particular shows evidence of their distinctive way with a Moog. (DBW)

The Heat Is On (1975)
Completing the transition, there are no outside musicians or cover tunes, no organ and hardly any acoustic guitar - clavinet and driving funk-rock are the order of the day. The commercial payoff was big: the album went all the way to #1 propelled by the hit single/political statement "Fight The Power." The title track is a relentless groove that's probably the record's best, though "Hope You Feel Better Love" features the album's best guitar solo. Side two is turned over to ballads, and although "Sensuality" is lovely, the arrangements lack variety, and the melody of the 8-minute "Make Me Say It Again Girl" is pretty obvious. Written, arranged and produced by the six family members, with synth programming by Cecil & Margouleff. (DBW)

Harvest For The World (1976)
A blend of 3 + 3's folk-rock and Heat Is On's funk-rock, but it's so low-key ("Who Loves You Better" - a single) and the melodies are so often generic (title track) it can be boring. Even the Stevie-styled layered keyboards on "People Of Today" (thanks to Margouleff and Cecil, their last effort with the band) and uplifting lyrics don't make up for the lack of excitement. The ballads are pleasant but lyrically unfocused ("(At Your Best) You Are Love"), which leaves exactly one track that shows how powerful the band can be: the album-closing "You Still Feel The Need." If you're collecting the prime 70s period records, leave this one for last. Though they never again had a Top 10 single, this and the next six albums all went gold or platinum. (DBW)

Go For Your Guns (1977)
A rebound, as they dropped the generic soft rock and settled into a formula of Hendrix-like funk ("Climbin' Up The Ladder") and stripped-down Ronald ballads ("Footsteps In The Dark"). There are lots of good hooks, but nothing really new, and since the two soloists (Ernie and Chris) show limited stylistic range, it gets a bit monotonous. "The Pride" was a #1 R&B hit, and the trippy "Voyage To Atlantis" is a fun Ronald vehicle. Though it's lacking intensity, fans will get a lot out of this. (DBW)

Showdown (1978)
The funky uptempo "Take It To The Next Phase" was another R&B #1, and most of the record is in the same mold: formulaic but consistently grooving, with most tracks sounding like potential A sides ("Rockin' With Fire," "Ain't Givin' Up No Love," "Showdown"). The ballads are just as good - "Groove With You" was sampled on MC Lyte's "2 Young 4 What?" and "Coolin' Me Out" grafts a smooth Ronald vocal over a grinding funk groove. As usual, Ernie, Marvin and Chris handle all the instruments, and though the soloists stretch out a little more than on the previous release, it still sounds a bit claustrophobic. Anyway, with so many great tunes, this is a fine place to start with the 3+3 hit years - I enjoy the record even more than the more popular Heat Is On. (DBW)

Winner Takes All (1979)
I only have disc two of this two-LP set (don't ask why), and it's really disappointing, with a string of second-rate ballads ("How Lucky I Am") and routine funk rock ("Mind Over Matter"), all recorded and performed in exactly the same way as the preceding string of albums. The James Taylor-like "Love Comes And Goes" and the Sly tribute "Go For What You Know" are enjoyable enough, but a far cry from their best work. I'm hoping disc one (which I'm still looking for) is better: it contains the R&B #1 "I Wanna Be With You" and the hit "It's A Disco Night (Rock Don't Stop)." This double LP missed the Top Ten, but did go gold. (DBW)

Go All The Way (1980)
The Isleys were really running their formula into the ground at this point - the only thing even approaching a new idea is occasional distracting electronic percussion crashes (title track). Worse, this time the riffs aren't great ("Pass It On"), and there's not much soloing from Ernie and Chris (Ernie does turn in a sterling performance on "Say You Will"). And how many times can you listen to Marvin play the same bass line (cf. "The Belly Dancer"), anyway? The record is redeemed by two elegant Ronald ballads, the extended "Here We Go Again" and "Don't Say Goodnight (It's Time For Love)," which became the group's last hit single for a few years; this was also their last Top Ten pop album. (DBW)

Grand Slam (1981)
Sales slipped significantly here (the record still went gold), but it's at least as good the previous release, with solid tunes in both ballad ("Tonight Is The Night (If I Had You)") and funk ("Young Girls," "Who Said?") modes. Still, everything's so familiar stylistically ("Don't Let Up," the single "Hurry Up And Wait") you won't miss anything if you skip it. For the first time since 1972, outside musicans were used, though sparingly: Everett Collins and Kevin Jones add drums and percussion, and Eve Otto plays harp on "Tonight Is The Night." (DBW)

Inside You (1981)
A temporary change of direction: the opening title track is uptempo funk, but most of the album is turned over to lush ballads that seem to be a tribute to early 70s smooth R&B groups like the Stylistics ("Don't Hold Back Your Love," "Baby Hold On"). ("First Love," by David Townsend, is actually a pretty good stab at 70s rival Earth, Wind & Fire's signature sound.) Of course, in the early 80s Philly soul was more passé than the Isleys' own brand of funk, so it's no surprise this was their worst selling record in years; it didn't chart at all, though the title track did hit the R&B Top Ten. Collins and Jones are back (Otto also returns on the overblown "Welcome To My Heart"), but the problem is the unimaginative, heavyhanded use of strings, which overwhelms nearly every track. Also, some decent melodies would've helped: "Love Merry-Go-Round" is painfully dull, though Ronald's always-reliable vocals do help somewhat. "Love Zone" attempts to integrate the sodden strings with Ernie's electric guitar, with mixed results, but it's about as good as this record gets. A low point in the Isleys saga. (DBW)

The Real Deal (1982)
After the last attempt to reinvent themselves failed, the brothers used this LP to bid their fond farewell to the styles that had carried them to multi-platinum success. The lengthy title track is punchy electrofunk that sounds more like Prince than anything the group had recorded before, and it's fun. The rest of the disc is pretty much in the same groove they'd been in for ten years, but somehow it sounds fresher than the previous few discs: "Stone Cold Lover" is vintage power-funk; "I'll Do It All For You" combines Ronald balladry with head-snapping Marvin bass runs; "Under The Influence" is their first take on the twelve-bar blues, and the deep pocket combined with Ernie's passionate soloing make it the best track they'd cut in years. Collins, Jones, and the strings return on the so-so love song "It's Alright With Me." The continuing lack of sales prompted a major rethink by the next release. (DBW)

Between The Sheets (1983)
Boy, these guys weren't great innovators but they sure were smart. As soon as the small band guitar-clavinet sound stopped selling, they shifted to a lush, synth-heavy sound with electronic percussion alongside Ernie's trap work, but instead of it sounding forced and artificial, they sound like they'd been working in this style for ten years. "Choosey Lover" is a bit too close to Earth Wind & Fire's "Devotion" for comfort, but the other tunes are clever and original: "Let's Make Love Tonight" and the title track are among their best ballads, while "Ballad For The Fallen Soldier" rocks, with lyrics recalling the late 60s political spirit. The closing instrumental "Rock You Good," with Chris and Ernie dueling, is also a pleasure; the band sure doesn't sound like it was about to split up. Once again, no guest artists or writers whatsoever. (DBW)

Broadway's Closer To Sunset Boulevard (Isley Jasper Isley: 1984)
The younger generation struck out on their own here, but didn't chart. Though all the credits are split equally, Marvin's totally inaudible and Ernie hardly gets to play his guitar (though he sounds great on the closing funk-rocker "Break This Chain"). It's mostly Chris's show, but his blaring synth lines lack originality or flair (title track). The opening "Sex Drive" (with female backing vocalists, the only guests on the record) rips off the Gap Band, which, though not a bad thing in itself, reveals a disturbing lack of new ideas. The ballads suffer the most from the loss of the elder Isleys: maybe Ronald could have breathed life into a routine number like "I Can't Get Over Losing You." Not terrible ("Kiss And Tell" is somewhere between EWF and the Doobie Brothers), but no one's at their best here. (DBW)

Caravan Of Love (Isley Jasper Isley: 1984)
Again, surprisingly unsuccessful sales-wise, though the title track was an R&B #1. It sounds very much like the late 70s Isleys, with a mix of yearning ballads ("If You Believe In Love," title track) and guitar-driven political funk ("Liberation"). Ernie and Chris split the lead vocals, and do better this time - Chris gets pleasantly close to Ronald's sound ("Insatiable Woman"). They still go synth-happy on a couple of tracks (the mechanical "Dancin' Around The World"), but not as much as on their surrounding releases. No outside artists at all: everything's written, produced, arranged and performed by the trio. (DBW)

Masterpiece (1985)
The original Isleys were a trio again, and since they were low on song material, most of this record is covers: Stevie Wonder's "Stay Gold," Skip Scarborough's "My Best Was Good Enough," The one tune written by the group (with Rudolph's wife Elaine Jasper Isley) is "May I?," which is pleasant but undistinguished. It's an unashamed, unabashed mainstream pop record, and what makes it all work is the keyboard, horn and string arrangements by Gene Page: finely detailed without sounding anal, elaborate without being pointlessly ornate, just innovative enough to catch your ear without distracting from the vocalists. The version of the sappy hit "The Most Beautiful Girl" reshapes the melody so that it sounds original and familiar at the same time - quite a trick. And Ronald sings so convincingly he completely sells mediocre numbers like Phil Collins's "If Leaving Me Is Easy" (as during the 3+3 years, the other two brothers don't get any time in the spotlight). The top-flight cast of musicians includes Robbie Buchanan and Randy Kerber (keyboards), Paul Jackson, David T. Walker and Don Huff (guitars), Neil Stubenhaus and Freddie Washington (bass), and John Robinson, Ed Green and the ineluctable Paulinho Da Costa (drums and percussion). The record didn't sell well at all, and the group never cut another record in this sophisticated, orchestral vein. (DBW)

Smooth Sailin' (1987)
The first record since the death of O'Kelly, also the first appearance of Àngela Winbush as writer and co-producer. The record set a pattern for Winbush's work with the band: some lovely lush ballads (title track, "It Takes A Good Woman") together with slick uptempo filler ("Everything Is Alright"). It seems they were short of material this time around: the brothers cover René & Àngela's "Come My Way," and the flaccid album-closer "I Wish" (by outside writer Raymond Reeder) is padded out to almost seven minutes. The record has its moments, but is far from the best of Winbush's or the Isleys' work. This and the next three Isley Brothers albums were released on Warner Bros, not T-Neck. (DBW)

Different Drummer (Isley Jasper Isley: 1987)
This was a flop, probably because the trio was trying too hard to keep up with commercial trends: huge thumping Phill Collins drums, synthesized bass lines, and completely conventional song structures. The vocals are on-key and pretty enough but without any nuance or real emotional impact; pretty much the only tipoff that these guys used to be in the Isley Brothers is Ernie's distorted soloing, which saves "For The Sake Of Love." There's nothing distinctive about the tunes either, nothing offensive but it's bland. (DBW)

Superbad (Chris Jasper: 1988)

Spend The Night (1989)
Winbush produced (with Ronald and Rudolph) and wrote everything here, and it's all in her elegant, synth-heavy style. It's just not very interesting. Recorded about the same time as her magnificent The Real Thing, this is definitely the B-side: the opening "Spend The Night" is a rerun of her hit "Angel," and it goes downhill from there. The uptempo numbers are overprogrammed and obvious, and the ballads are pleasant but lack individuality. The Isleys' presence is restricted to vocals: Ronald sings all the leads, and Rudolph adds backups, though unfortunately Angela doesn't lend her soaring voice to the proceedings. Guests include Kool Moe Dee in the confused soul-rap blend "Come Together," and longtime Winbush associates Tony Maiden, Nathan East, Paul Jackson, Jeff Lorber and Paulinho Da Costa. (DBW)

Time Bomb (Chris Jasper: 1989)
A serious disappointment for anyone who enjoyed Jasper's funky keyboard work with the 70s Isleys. After Isley Jasper Isley broke up, Jasper went it alone: every tune is his, and he plays nearly all the instruments with no involvement from any of the other Isleys. Unfortunately, he doesn't have any new ideas at all, rehashing the obvious drum programming, dull synth lines, and weak melodies that ruined Different Drummer. He doesn't have anything to say lyrically either, and doesn't play any solos - every song here will have you waiting impatiently for the end, except maybe the title track, which sounds like it could be an Earth Wind & Fire outtake. (DBW)

High Wire (Ernie Isley: 1990)
The opposite of Jasper's solo album: Ernie sounds like he's finally free to show off all his talents. Many of the tracks blend rock guitar with electronic funk in a way that combines the grit and drive of both while simultaneously guaranteeing that no radio station would play it. On the best of these tracks ("Deal With It," "Rising From The Ashes"), he no longer sounds like a Hendrix imitator, he actually sounds like a 90s Hendrix. He also conjures up a loose live-sounding jam that recalls early Kool & The Gang ("Deep Water"), and throws in charming brief solo demos: "In Deep" features a lovely slide guitar line. He plays most of his own instruments, revealing a very funky bass style on the title track, and a simple but engaging touch with programmed drums. He also stuffs the disc with intriguing intellectual lyrics ("Song For The Muses", "Deal With It"), but the records greatest strength is consistently inventive, catchy songwriting ("She Takes Me Up," "Fare Thee Well, Fair-Weather Friend," "Song For The Muses"). The only misses are the ballad "Love Situation" and the routine workout "Diamond In The Rough" - this is a fantastic bargain at cut-out prices. (DBW)

Praise The Eternal (Chris Jasper: 1992)
Jasper shifted to Christian themes at this point. (DBW)

Tracks Of Life (1992)
Winbush produced and co-wrote practically everything again, but the Isleys (now including Ronald, Ernie and Marvin) were more involved, being credited as producers and contributing some of the tunes. In fact, the album's best track is a slow grind Àngela didn't cowrite or appear on, Ronald's "Lost In Your Love." Winbush herself is covering real familiar ground: sexy tuneful ballads ("Sensitive Lover," "Morning Love") or uptempo pop with a hip hop beat ("Red Hot"). But her piano work shines on the midtempo "Whatever Turns You On." Ronald takes all the leads, as is usual in this period, and his impending marriage to Winbush seems to have brought out a more romantic, Marvin Gaye-like tone in his vocals. There's even a genuine wedding song, a different version of the "Brazilian Wedding Song" concurrently released by Quincy Jones. With 14 tracks and an over 70 minute running time, it's kind of exhausting, but there are lots of memorable moments here. (DBW)

Live! (1993)
As on the previous studio album, Ronald, Ernie and Marvin are involved. The set list is mostly from the 70s hit years - "That Lady," "Fight The Power" - though there are tunes included from the 50's through the 90s. It's a high energy, consistently enjoyable performance, gliding smoothly from fiery funk like "Take Me To The Next Phase" to smooth bedroom jams like "Between The Sheets" and "Spend The Night." Ernie is in top form, and Ronald is in high spirits; the disc never flags through its 70-minute duration. The only weak spot is "Shout," without the original's manic intensity, and with a 2/4 country-western beat that comes across kind of hokey. But if you liked anything the Isleys did after "It's Your Thing," you should get ahold of this. (DBW)

Deep Inside (Chris Jasper: 1994)

Mission To Please (1996)
Determined to stay contemporary, Ronald brought in super-hot R&B producer/performer R. Kelly, who contributes a routine ballad ("Let's Lay Together") and the hit title track. In addition, another ballad was coaxed from Babyface, characteristically tuneful but unsurprising ("Tears"). As if that's not enough, Keith Sweat (flavor of the month back in the late 80s) contributed another track, "Slow Is The Way," and there's a cover of the 1985 Mick Hucknall tune "Holding Back The Years." The rest of the tracks were written and produced by Winbush and Ronald: "Floatin' On Your Love" is a standout, sexy and slow with gripping vocals from Winbush, and "Make Your Body Sing" is also lovely in her signature style. Overall, though, there are so many minimalist ballads it gets monotonous. At this point Ronald is the only original member, with Rudolph not participating, but Ernie plays lead guitar here and there, and Marvin adds backup vocals to "Let's Get Intimate." For those keeping score, this one's on T-Neck, distributed by Island. (DBW)

Shouting For Jesus (Rudolph: 1997)
Following Chris's lead, a gospel album, written and produced by Rudolph and his wife, Elaine Jasper Isley, featuring Clarence MacDonald on keys and Paul Jackson Jr. on guitar. (DBW)

Faithful & True (Chris Jasper: 2001)

Eternal (2001)
By now the "band" is just Ronald, with occasional help from Ernie, and the entire disc is made up of frustrating, tuneless slow jams like the R. Kelly-produced single "Contagious," which features a brief cameo from Chanté Moore. Ernie sounds the same as ever, thankfully ("Ernie's Jam"), but not even his vigorous, tasteful soloing and Ronald's velvet vocals can redeem these five-minute chunks of Instant Boredom ("Settle Down"). The cover of Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now" is even duller: in the 3 + 3 era, the Isleys breathed new life into AM schlock, but now they're making it even schlockier. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis produced five songs (title track) which are so far below the level of even their weakest Janet Jackson work that I have to think they were asked to provide tuneless backdrops - the one exception is "Think," pleasantly retro soul testifying. Steve "Stone" Huff and Raphael Saadiq produced three each, and Huff's "Secret Lover" is a bit livelier than the rest; Vidal Lewis and Andre Harris's "Said Enough" (featuring Jill Scott) isn't. And maybe I'm the only Angela Winbush fan left, but I'm pissed that she was confined to just one ballad, "Warm Summer Night," which has clever electronic percussion and fine Ernie soloing - especially because so much tripe made the cut. (DBW)

Body Kiss (2003)
Kelly wrote and produced this followup, and brought in Snoop Dog ("I Like") and Lil' Kim (title track) for guest shots. Not coincidentally, the record debuted at #1, their first top-charting album since The Heat Is On. Winbush was out of the picture by this point. (DBW)

Here I Am: Ronald Isley Meets Burt Bacharach (2003)
Isley singing a set of Bacharach hits ("Anyone Who Had A Heart," "The Look Of Love") and two new songs ("Love's (Still) The Answer"), with a Bacharach-conducted orchestra. It sounds just like you'd expect, which is the record's great strength and great flaw: long on professionalism, short on unpredictability. Sonically superb, with arrangements that manage to be simultaneously muscular and light, and Isley's affection for the material is obvious ("Make It Easy On Yourself"). He brings startling drama and intensity to "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," which I'd always considered one of Bacharach's more trivial compositions. Elsewhere, though, he just falls back on his usual enjoyable mannerisms ("Alfie"), and Bacharach's new songs don't match up to the oldies, which all date from the Warwick era. (DBW)

Amazing Love (Chris Jasper: 2005)

Baby Makin' Music (2006)
I expected this to be an unambitious collection of simple drum/synth loops ("Just Came Here To Chill"), mind-numbing chord progressions ("Rocket Love"), and improvised vocal recitatives of trite romantic patter with too many references to Mr. Biggs. And unfortunately every expectation was met ("Heaven Hooked Us Up," an ode to Ronald's new wife/backup singer Kandy Johnson): Kelly's back for just one track ("Blast Off"), but the other producers - including Jermaine Dupri, Troy Taylor, and Ronald Isley - stick to the same routine. Ron's voice is still silk-smooth, and Ernie's magic guitar tone - when you can hear him - is unchanged ("Forever Mackin'"); other than that, there's absolutely nothing positive to say. (DBW)

Invincible (Chris Jasper: 2007)
I don't know if this is typical of Jasper's religious records, but it does have a lot in common with his 1989 secular release, Time Bomb, and not in a good way. He's still working the one-man band concept, with depressingly dull programmed drums, bland keyboards and hackneyed chord progressions ("Do You Believe"; title track). Even the tempo almost never varies, so there are no true ballads and only "He's The Judge" even approaches funk. No guests or anything else that might have added any interest, and making matters worse, every track is far too long. About the only thing to listen for is Jasper's imitation of Ronald's signature "Oh-oh-oh-whoa-oh" ("I Know That You Love Me"). (DBW)

I'll Be Home For Christmas (2007)
I'm kind of amazed it took the Isleys this long to come out with a Christmas album, to be honest. Produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis; generally they create a captivating mellow mood using Moog-y synth tones reminiscent of the classic 70s ballads ("Silent Night"), and deftly rearrange a few tunes, bringing a fresh perspective to the most tired ("White Christmas"). Ronald sounds great on both standards ("Winter Wonderland"; "Silent Night") and new material ("I'm In Love"), though on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" he goes overboard with a rambling, gutbucket spontaneity that makes him sound like he's off his rocker. Ernie's on two tracks, "White Christmas" and the Jam/Lewis original "What Can I Buy You?" where he sounds about the same as ever; Doc Powell is guest guitarist on "The Christmas Song," but his jazzy pickin' doesn't quite fit in. Even with all the strangeness - in fact, partly because of that - it sounds like an Isley Brothers record rather than an R. Kelly record, and that's a cause for celebration. (DBW)

Mr. I (Ronald Isley: 2010)
Aretha Franklin duets on "You've Got A Friend" over a light arrangement recalling Here I Am; T.I. is on "Put Your Money On Me." (DBW)

This Song's For You (Ronald Isley: 2013)
Unfortunately, this is back in the Eternal/Baby Makin' Music mold, but even less interesting. Helmed by Troy Taylor, who also wrote most of the tunes; without Ernie (though there are a couple of imitations), it's just one pre-programmed would-be seduction from Mr. Biggs after another: "Dinner And A Movie"; "Let's Be Alone"; "Bed Time." "Another Night" is anchored by a "Between The Sheets" sample that only makes you realize how much more Isley is capable of. As background music it's passable since it sticks close to R&B conventions you're already familiar with, and Ronald's voice is as soothing as ever ("The Boss"), but woe betide you if you listen closely. "Lay You Down" features Trey Songz; KEM is on "My Favorite Thing." (DBW)

Why do we waste all our time reviewing records? I guess it's our thing.

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