The Isley Brothers have continued releasing vital music over a six-decade span, and they've done it in a big way. Since "Shout," the first single released in 1959, the family has kept the sound fresh and relevant. As part of an ongoing series of reissues from Epic/Legacy, two of the band's mid-'70s recordings have been released on CD almost simultaneously with a new Isleys album on DreamWorks. Although 25 years separates the reissues from the new record, the signature sound of the Isleys shines through and proves that quality is timeless.
The Heat Is On, from 1975, focuses on the extended family, including brothers Ronnie, O'Kelly, Rudolph, Marvin and Ernie Isley, and brother-in-law Chris Jasper. The sound is pure funk, and the lyrics are either strong political statements reflecting the social issues of the times ("Fight the Power") or smooth and sexy ballads ("Sensuality, Parts 1 & 2"). Ronnie and O'Kelly's dynamic voices were accentuated by Ernie's unique guitar style, which was accomplished with a variety of effects pedals (particularly the "Big Muff"), while Jasper's soulful keyboards add another dimension to the sound.
Harvest for the World, from 1976, picks up right where Heat left off and keeps the momentum going with great tracks such as "People of Today" and "Let Me Down Easy." It was a fertile time for the band, and the energy was contagious.
Fast forward to 2001 and Eternal, the newest release from the Isleys, which features vocals by Ronnie and Ernie on guitar. Soul singer R. Kelly and the production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis aid the Isleys in recapturing their signature sound. Keeping a fairly slow groove throughout the disc, Ronnie shows he still has the pipes on "Move Your Body," and Ernie flat-out smokes with that funky guitar sound on almost every track. The family may not be together in the way it once was, but the sound lives forever.
-- James Kelly
The Isley Brothers play Chastain Park Amphitheatre Fri., Aug. 31.
Any intel about this Project Pabst festival that I scheduled for 10/1?
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