Tuesday, 6 October 2020

The Isley Brothers - Blowin' Through The Jasmine (1973-1978)

 3 + 3 (1973)


That Lady, Parts 1 & 2/Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight/If You Were There/You Walk Your Way/Listen To The Music/What It Comes Down To/Sunshine (Go Away Today)/Summer Breeze, Parts 1 & 2/The Highways Of My Life     

After getting the rough end of the stick in their latter years at MotownThe Isley Brothers had drifted for a bit in the late sixties/early seventies, then they move to the Epic label, added three more siblings (two brothers and a cousin) to their line up and fully exploited their liking for rock music influences, merging it into their already well-developed soulfulness. What we then had was a perfect soul/funk/rock band and this excellent album was the best of their mid seventies output, by far. The two siblings who joined were notable for their contributions - the unique rock guitar sound of Ernie Isley and the rubber-band bass style of Marvin Isley. They re-created The Isleys' sound overnight. This rock influence was not something that alienated soul fans, however, they loved it, it would seem and rock audiences allowed the group in to the circle of respect, too. Despite the new influences, it is still very much a soul album, however.
                   
That Lady, Parts 1 & 2 needs no introduction. It is a magnificent piece of souk/funk/rock fusion. Its iconic feature is Ernie Isley's wonderful, buzzy guitar that is all over it. The vocal and general, catchy soul vibe is infectious too. The cover of James Taylor's Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight is a sumptuous, seductive late-night soul ballad, with a beautiful vocal. If You Were There is a melodic, clavinet-driven pleasant soul number. You Walk Your Way is an inviting, rhythmic slow number, in the Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes style, but with a much higher pitch of vocal.

  

The Isleys' take on The Doobie Brothers' country rock of Listen To The Music is interesting. The main riff is a funky clavinet one, and the drums are staccato and funkily groovy. The track is very different to the original. Some delicious funky wah-wah guitar introduces the lively and catchy, vocally harmonious What It Comes Down To. It also features some searing guitar near the end.

Sunshine (Go Away Today) is a brooding, Sly & The Family Stone-influenced, excellent slice of funk rock. It is one of the underrated tracks on the album. Like That Lady, the delectable Summer Breeze, Parts 1 & 2 is surely known to all. It is actually a cover of a Seals & Crofts song but The Isleys well and truly made it their own. It is rhythmic, melodic, singalong, soulful, dare I say breezy. It is all of those things and more. Up there in The Isleys' top five, for sure. Check out that guitar in Part 2. Awesome. Santana-esque. The Highways Of My Life is a laid-back, piano-led, tasty ballad to end this highly recommended and influential album with. Great album.

*** Incidentally the two "quad" mixes on the latest, extended release of the album are superb, even when played through the standard two speakers.




Live It Up (1974)


Live It Up, Parts 1 & 2/Brown Eyed Girl/Need A Little Taste Of Love/Lover's Eye/Midnight Sky, Parts 1 & 2/Hello It's Me/Ain't I Been Good To You, Parts 1 & 2 

This was a confident funky soul album from the re-invented Isley Brothers. While the previous year's excellent 3 + 3 had seen an infectious, airy soul sound taking in rock guitar influences, this album was far more of a laid-back soul/funk album, with dance-ish funk rhythms dominating many of the tracks. For me, it is just a bit underwhelming after the glory of its predecessor. It is not a bad album in its own right, however, it just suffers a bit in comparison. Personally, I also find the production slightly muffled, nowhere near as clear as 3 + 3. Check out those costumes on the cover though - before Earth, Wind & Fire caught on, too.
             
Live It Up, Parts 1 & 2 is an extended dance/soul groove, slightly Parliament/Funkadelic-sounding, full of clavinet riffs and augmented by Ernie Isley's rock-influenced guitar, such as he used to great effect on 1973's That Lady. The Part 2 bit just extends the instrumental groove, as on all the Part 2s. Brown Eyed Girl is not the Van Morrison song, but a smooth, Stevie Wonder-esque slow soul ballad. Need A Little Taste Of Love is a lively, upbeat funker, with a bit of that muffled sound I was talking about. It was very much in the vein of the sort of material The Jacksons would excel in a few years later. Ernie supplies some killer guitar on this one.

 

Lover's Eye brings the pace down with a smooth piano, organ and percussion slowie. It again has big hints of Stevie Wonder about it. Midnight Sky, Parts 1 & 2 has a great funky punch to it, but it is once more blighted by a muddy sound. Sure, there is a pleasing bass thump to the funk, which I always welcome, but a bit more clarity to the buried in the mix percussion would suit my taste. Some classic rock guitar dominates Part Two. Don't get me wrong, it is an excellent track, I would just like a little tweaking here and there.

Hello It's Me, in comparison, has a beautiful, crystal clear quality to its sound. It is a lush, syrupy sweet soul slow number in the Lionel Richie mode (not just in its title). It provides a late-night, relaxing interlude to the strong funk rhythms of much of the rest of the album. They return with the muscular funk breaks of Ain't I Been Good To You, Parts 1 & 2, in between soulful, melodic verses. Part 2 slows the whole thing down to a laid-back vocal and organ vibe. The previously funky, thumping chorus is now a soulful, heart-rending slow vocal. Some excellent guitar soloing comes in too. The guitar/vocal interplay at the end is positively Led Zeppelin-esque.

This album led the way in soul/funk in 1974, it has to be said. Along with Barry White's work, the trend for extended grooves and funk workouts was being set here.




The Heat Is On (1975)


Fight The Power/The Heat Is On/Hope You Feel Better Love/For The Love Of You/Sensuality/Make Me Say It Again Girl

The classic Isley Brothers 3 + 3 lineup returns for a third album here with more classic funky soul with rock guitar influences turning up occasionally. The tracks are all lengthy, all six of them listed as being Parts 1 & 2. It was quite de rigeur in the mid seventies for soul albums to not have many tracks - Isaac Hayes and Barry White in particular setting that trend. This is more upbeat, funky fare than their late-night smoochers, however. Where it suffers in comparison to 3 + 3, for me, is that melodic soul such as That Lady or Summer Breeze seems to have been sacrificed somewhat in favour of industrial strength funk. To a certain extent. As with most mid-seventies Isleys albums the funk is balanced by the inclusion of some sweet soul ballads. This was very much an album of two distinct sides.
                 
Fight The Power is a fast-paced funky groove with a big rubber-band bass line coursing throughout the song, driving it along. There are some Michael Jackson whoops several years before Jackson put the into every song. The Heat Is On is another gritty, funky grinder.

 

Hope You Feel Better Love has a catchy, upbeat guitar strummed intro and a lighter, more soulful vocal than on the previous two. There is a bit of a Doobie Brothers vibe to the guitar sound. Some serious electric guitar rock soloing from Ernie Isley at the end too.

The mood changes on the slow, slick soul groove of For The Love Of YouSensuality turns the lights down even lower on a real smoocher, Barry White style, (except the vocal is falsetto). Make Me Say It Again Girl continues in the same vein.

It is a perfectly listenable album, but without anything "special" on it. I prefer 3 + 3Live It Up and Harvest For The World. It is one of those albums I listen to and think "yes, that was ok", but afterwards, I couldn't really tell you too much about it, other than one half was good, solid funk and the other polished soul ballads. No track actually stuck in my mind.


Harvest For The World (1976)


Harvest For The World (Prelude)/Harvest For The World/People Of Today/Who Loves You Better/(At Your Best) You Are Love/Let Me Down Easy/So You Wanna Stay Down/You Still Feel The Need 
        
Another in the series of excellent "comeback" albums of funky soul merged with occasional rock-ish guitar that The Isley Brothers gave us in the mid-seventies. This is very much an album of two halves - lively, upbeat disco-ish funk to begin with, then on to sublime soul ballads, ending with a bit more funk.
                           
Harvest For The World is an energising, effervescent and wonderfully infectious number, full of melody and great hooks. It was one of the group's biggest hits and still gets regular airtime today. Its prelude uses the "gather every man" line in a slow, soulful build up before launching into the familiar strains of the song. It has a nice deep bass line in the background. The vocal harmonies as the song progresses are sublime. People Of Today is a chunky, clavinet-driven funker. So funky it hurts. It is often forgotten that The Isley Brothers could funk it.

Who Loves You Better was the album's first single release. It captures the disco-ish ambience of the age in an upbeat disco-funk number with some use of that old faithful That Lady buzzy guitar too. There are some great guitar riffs towards the end.

 

The old "side two" begins with a bit of Harold Melvin-esque soul smooching on (At Your Best) You Are Love . As well as funkin' out, the brothers could lay down a bit of sweet soul too. Lovely bass line on it too. This is classic mid-seventies soul fare. The late night vibe continues on the sumptuous, slow pace of Let Me Down Easy. The tempo ups again for the lively, rhythmic soul of So You Wanna Stay DownYou Still Feel The Need is a slow chugger of a track with another killer funk riff.

The remastered sound is pretty good, but not quite as great as some have suggested. There is a tiny bit of muffling, for me. That is a very minor gripe, though. This is still a good seventies soul album.


Go For Your Guns (1977)


The Pride/Footsteps In The Dark/Tell Me When You Need It Again/Climbin' Up The Ladder/Voyage To Atlantis/Livin' In The Life/Go For Your Guns           

This is probably The Isley Brothers' funkiest album from the post-1973 reinvention. It is considered by many to be their best album from that period, even above 3 + 3 and Harvest For The World. Despite its cover, which features on stage photos, it is not a live album.
                     
The Pride is 100% copper-bottomed upbeat, funky groove. It has a huge rubber-band bass line, particularly in the bit near the end. Footsteps In The Dark slows down the pack on a bassy, but laid-back harmonious ballad. It has some delicious percussion. The sound quality on this album is better than on some of the other Isley Brothers ones from the same period, which can, in my opinion, be a little muffled in places.

Tell Me When You Need It Again has some Sly Stone Family Affair-style wah-wah funky guitar and keyboards, some buzzy Ernie Isley rock guitar and a strong, gruff vocal. It is a good, solid slow funk/soul grinder. Climbin' Up The Ladder is a vibrant, punchy piece of hard rocking funk. Voyage To Atlantis is a lovely, sweet soul number that echoes the beauty of 1973's Summer Breeze. It has a bit of that Earth, Wind & Fire mysticism about it too.

 

Livin' In The Life is a superb slice of catchy funk/pop. You can't keep still to this one. It seamlessly merges into the instrumental, buzzy guitar-driven Go For Your Guns. Large parts of this album are extended instrumental passages and this is part of its appeal. Yes, it lacks a That LadySummer Breeze or Harvest For The World but it has far more of an ambience that sticks in your mind than, say, 1975's The Heat Is On. This was The Isley Brothers giving their best funk.




Showdown (1978)


Showdown/Groove With You/Ain't Givin' Up No Love/Rockin' With Fire/Take Me To The Next Phase/Coolin' Me Out/Fun And Games/Love Fever       

Released when disco was the big thing, this Isley Brothers album mixes their brand of funky soul with rock influences with a definite disco rhythm on a lot of the tracks. The line up that started this phase of their career in 1973 with 3 + 3 was beginning to sound a bit samey by now, but this is still an acceptable album, but it was probably the last of the group's really good-selling offerings. Were those outfits for real on the cover, though, lads? Dear oh dear.
                                          
Showdown is complete with Michael Jackson vocal yelps (so that's where he got them from) and a solid disco groove. Incidentally, the "rehearsal" cut of this track that comes with the latest remaster is superb, and superior to this one that was used on the eventual album, for me. Either version is a corker, however. Muscular, funky disco.

  

Often on a Isleys album, the first half would be groovers, the second smoochy ballads. Here, we get a sweet soul number second one up in the slick, soulful Groove With You. Quality soul on offer here. The same applies to the slow-cookin' Ain't Given' Up No Love, which marries some Sly Stone-ish vocals and some solid Parliament-style funk with Ernie Isley's unique rock guitar.

Rockin' With Fire brings back the disco/rock beat with another Jacksons-influenced floor-stomper. It is full of disco riffs, pounding drums and funky clavinet. This is a copper-bottomed piece of disco with a rock edge to it. The groove continues with the uber-funk strut of Take Me To The Next Phase , another Funkadelic/Parliament/Sly Stone-style number. It has some "live" crowd noises tagged on to it, but it is a studio recording. Coolin' Me Out lives up to its title with a laid-back, cool slice of melodic, harmonious soul.

Some exuberant wah-wah guitar introduces the catchy, vibrant slick urban disco of Fun And GamesLove Fever is another lively, infectious groover, enhanced by some more killer guitar and an insistent, intoxicating beat.

All of these tracks are extended versions, listed as Parts 1 & 2, consistent with most of their seventies albums. This is a good album for experiencing the best of the, often overlooked, quality disco fare that was being served up in 1978, that was not always appreciated either at the time or subsequently.



3 comments:

  1. Yeah you're right. I forgot that Hello it's Me and also Hope You Feel Better Love are really good. I gotta listen to those albums again cuz I don't recognize all the titles anymore.

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  2. I listened to those quadraphonic mixes of those two songs on 3 + 3. To tell the truth, I don't think I've ever listened to a quad mix before. I don't even know anybody who even had a quad system. I wonder what it was like. Four speakers and stuff. . I bet it was cool

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  3. I have never had a quadrophonic system or 5.1 surround sound, so those mixes have always been useless to me.

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