Jessie Lilley
Buddy Barnett
Brad Linaweaver

November 2009     Web Edition     Issue #3

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The Essential Isley Brothers

Sony Legacy 2004

Remember at the high school dance when you were waiting in the hallway for your girlfriend to come back from the Ladies’? You hid behind the row of lockers and once she passed you, crept up behind her, put your arms around her and stole a kiss. Shame on you [she grinned]. Remember what song was playing? It was ‘Brown Eyed Girl.’ Or was it ‘That Lady?’ Um, maybe it was the Isleys’ ‘Summer Breeze’ which really hit me in the gut once they covered it. Seals and Crofts are fine but, well damn it they’re not the Isley Brothers.

And y’all know by now that I am gaga for Rod Stewart. His ‘This Old Heart of Mine’ is a lovely cover but…. He’s not the Isley Brothers! Sometimes you just need the true blue soul of this extraordinary band of brothers. Sony Legacy is not unaware of this.Now wait a minute! Who can imagine all that talent in one family? Glory and hallelujah! Ron Isley on lead and background vocals; Rudolph and O’Kelly Isley on background vocals; Ernie Isley on 6- and 12-string acoustic guitars, electric guitars, maracas, bass, drums, congas, percussion, timbales and background vocals; Marvin Isley on bass, woodcock, cowbell, percussion and background vocals; Chris Jasper on grand and electric pianos, clavinet, ARP synthesizer, tambourine, percussion, background vocals and lead vocal on ‘Caravan of Love.’

Holy shit.

Who here remembers T-Neck records? I mean I know I do but… see, I grew up in Tenafly (white bread) and was the family rebel. I remember those orange labels and that sound. God! How crazy was I for ‘Love The One You’re With’ [71]… anyway, when I eventually got married, my then-husband and I bought a neat little house in Teaneck, NJ, just south and west of Tenafly. Who could afford Tenafly for God’s sake? Well, back when the world was new [57-ish], the Isleys—late of Lincoln Heights, IL—arrived in NYC and settled in Teaneck, there to eventually create T-Neck Records in an attempt to keep a tight leash on their own sound and output. Motown was nice but the money was tight and so was the control. Of course the storyline didn’t happen quite so quickly as that, but it wasn’t all that long either. Not an easy thing to do but ultimately the family prevailed and turned it out time after time. Their sound has been loved since the early 50s and baby, nuthin’s ever gonna stop it. R&B, Motown, Soul, Funk, the sound changing with the times and leaving crystalline points for so many of us to ponder.

The thing about the Isleys is that they not only sang during and lived through the world-changing 60s, they guided the rest of us with their overwhelming ability to present anger, strength, heartbreak and throughout it all—love. Love of self and love of humanity: all of it. There are a lot of American songs from that time: protest songs; songs that ignored world events; feel-good songs; ‘patriotic’ songs [remember Barry Sadler? brrrr]; songs that tried to make you think there was nothing wrong really: so many songs; so much music; so much tragedy.

Jack Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, the Reverend Dr. King, George Wallace, Richard Nixon, bloody Henry Kissinger and the war in Vietnam. I remember watching it every night on the news to see if I could catch a glimpse of my cousins Lawrence and Gene. You remember Kent State, The Black Panthers, Malcolm X, Mayor John Lindsay and fucking Fun City? (I still refer to NYC’s 96th Street as The DMZ.) Remember how close we came to the second US Civil War? How in hell did we manage to stand down from that? We were there and ready to let fly, but something stopped us. And I know the Isleys were responsible in part for the end of that suddenly quiet hell I grew up in.

They did it with many of the songs on these two CDs. The Essential Isley Brothers spans 1959 [‘Shout’ Parts 1 & 2] to 1996 [‘Down Low (Nobody Has To Know)’] and has everything you need to have one hell of a party this weekend. Before The Beatles did it (64), the Isleys recorded ‘Twist and Shout’ in 1962 and that’s the version I love. ‘Brother, Brother,’ ‘Freedom,’ ‘Move Over and Let Me Dance’ (with Jimi Hendrix)—that’s just a sampling from Disc 1. Disc 2 includes ‘Voyage to Atlantis,’ ‘Caravan of Love,’ Eric Burden’s ‘Spill The Wine’ [my personal favorite on 2] and the extraordinarily hot ‘Between The Sheets’ to name only a few. All told there are 34 tracks for your listening pleasure, and pleasure it is.

So, where is everyone now? According to the liner notes [which should be read cover to cover by the way, beautifully done] by pop music critic Rashod D. Ollison [The Baltimore Sun]: Marvin left the group in the 90s due to illness [diabetes]; O’Kelly died of a heart attack in 86; Rudolph got the call and joined the ministry; Ernie and Chris formed Isley Jasper in 84 but now, Ron and Ernie hold the fort. Let’s take a moment and remember someone I never knew about until I read these notes: brother Vernon, who was there in the music ’way back but was killed by a car while riding his bike in 1954. The story is that the music stopped for a while, but Mrs. Sallye Bernice Isley, the matriarch of this formidable clan, found a way to remind her remaining sons of the gifts bestowed on them. And so today we have this joy.

Thank you Mrs. Isley, thank you so very much.

—Jessie Lilley