Monday, 27 May 2019

The Isley Brothers - Givin' it Back (1971)

Nothing to do but today....


Released September 1971

It was a bold move for The Isley Brothers, in 1971, to release an album of cover versions of white artists' largely folk/country rock material and giving it their own unique soulful, funky stamp. While white artists often covered black music, the reverse didn't happen as often, apart from Motown acts endlessly covering The Beatles, of course. This was something somewhat different and is most interesting for it. Pictured on the cover, in sepia tones, with acoustic guitars, sitting on some farmyard hay bales, it looks like an album by The Band, so there was considerable surprise even in this.


1. Ohio/Machine Gun
2. Fire And Rain
3. Lay Lady Lay
4. Spill The Wine
5. Nothing To Do But Today
6. Cold Bologna
7. Love The One You're With      

The album kicks off with Neil Young's protest song concerning the shooting of four students by police in 1970 at Kent University,  "Ohio", delivered against a searing backing of electric guitar and deep funky bass and drums. It merges into the hard-hitting spoken words and rat-a-tat drumming of Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun". This is adventurous stuff. Up there with "What's Going On" and material from The Temptations, Curtis Mayfield and The Undisputed Truth for social awareness. You cannot underestimate the power and effect of this. The album is worth getting for this track alone. Check out Ernie Isley's guitar too. Stunning and very atmospheric.

James Taylor's "Fire And Rain" is given the Isley treatment and it has a bit of a "Summer Breeze" feel about it in places, while Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" is extended to a full ten minutes and, although it has a good, laid-back soulful vocal, for some reason I feel the Isleys' talents are best served on other material and I much prefer the original. It goes on far too long, the title repeated ad nauseam and doesn't quite get there for me. Not that the vocal isn't beautiful at times and the bass line too, for that matter.

"Spill The Wine" has a jaunty Caribbean-style rhythm to it. It is a complete mood change to the previous track (a new side on the original album). It has a quirky appeal to it. It was originally done by Eric Burdon & War. I like this one. Stephen Stills' "Nothing To Do But Today" is given a staccato, funky beat and a jazzy improvised vocal, although this starts to grate a bit by the end.

Bill Withers' star had not quite risen at this point, but it was certainly on the rise and he appears here in his own "Cold Bologna", which appeared on his 1973 live album as "Cold Baloney". The song is given a quirky, rhythmic makeover, although Withers' sparser version is probably the better one. Those acoustic guitars from the cover make their first real appearance on another Stills song, the country rock of "Love The One You're With".

Personally, I much prefer the albums that were released either side of this one - "Get Into Something" and "Brother, Brother, Brother". I admire the Isleys for the concept of the album, but it doesn't quite work for me. I feel they are out of their comfort zone just a little bit. I know that is a big thing to say, because this is still a seriously good album, but that is how I feel about it. It is their funky soul all the way for me, not singing "lay lady lay" for ten minutes. Sorry, many will feel that is sacrilegious, I know. It is a grower of an album, though, maybe therein lies its strength.


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