Shouting with the Isleys

THE ISLEY BROTHERSIt’s Your Thing: The Story of the Isley Brothers (Epic AssociatedT-NeckLegacy)

Clocking in at three hours and 40-some minutes, this three-CD box set provides just about the definitive aural history of the perennially underrated family act. Ronald, Rudolph and O‘Kelly Isley started out singing doo-wop in the suburbs of Cincinnati and made their first records in 1957. (Another brother, Vernon, died in an auto accident before their recording career began.) The Isleys scored their first hit in 1959 with a secularized gospel rewrite, “Shout.” Three years later, they cut their second rock & roll classic, “Twist and Shout.” After a brief stay at Motown brought them the ’68 smash “This Old Heart of Mine,” they went to England, got reacquainted with their band‘s former guitarist — one Jimi Hendrix — and added younger brothers Ernie (guitar) and Marvin (bass), as well as Rudolph’s brother-in-law Chris Jasper (keyboards) to the act. The impossibly funky result, “It‘s Your Thing” — issued on the by-then self-contained band’s own T-Neck label in 1969 — provided the blueprint for another two decades‘ worth of hits, ranging from the guitar-driven “That Lady” and the message-in-the-music “Fight the Power,” to the boudoir soul ballads “Between the Sheets” and “Smooth Sailin’ Tonight.” O‘Kelly died, aged 48, from a heart attack in 1986; Rudolph abandoned pop for the pulpit shortly thereafter. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and that is the short version of the Isley Brothers story.

Aside from all the hits, this particular package fleshes out the tale with the Isley-Jasper-Isley spinoff’s “Caravan of Love,” which the Housemartins covered back when Fatboy Slim was just Norman Cook, guitar player; the Isleys‘ original (1964) Agent Double-O-Soul version of “Who’s That Lady”; a ground-pounding workout on “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)” that smokes Motown labelmate Kim Weston and, of course, the Doobie Brothers; and two tunes recorded with the above-mentioned Mr. Hendrix on guitar. You also get a taste of their rare, early doo-wop efforts, a frantic onstage introduction to “Shout,” some jaw-dropping live-in-the-studio renditions of several Isleys ‘70s jams, and a trio of tres cool covers from the Carole King, Bill Withers and Cahn & Styne (!) catalogs.

Curiously missing are the downright lascivious, oft-covered “Your Old Lady,” the mid-’60s dance-floor fillers “Nobody but Me” and “Respectable,” and the ‘77 player’s anthem “Livin‘ in the Life.” Otherwise, it’s perfect for parties and late-night, two glasses of white wine, you and your lay-dee . . .

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