The Isley Brothers' sides for RCA Victor were, at one time, among the more elusive parts of their catalog -- neglected on vinyl except for a few short, poorly produced budget reissues. This collection solves that problem, though the stuff is still not in chronological order, which would have made it perfect, but that's a small flaw in what is otherwise a near-perfect collection. The Isleys, still in their first professional decade and working for a major label for the first time, were rapidly rising to a peak for that phase of their careers and deliver an often burning hot mix of R&B, gospel, pop, and blues, at its best sounding a lot like Jackie Wilson's early output pumped up to a higher wattage. Indeed, the production by Hugo & Luigi -- brought out full-force on the CD transfer (which makes up for a brace of subpar LPs in the intervening decades) -- mostly enhances the impact of the singing, with the spacious sound around the Isleys' voices. That's especially true where gospel-style accompaniment, such as an organ, or straight rock & roll instrumentation ("Tell Me Who") is employed. The weak points in the material come from Hugo & Luigi's tendency to rely on strings; as with their later productions for Sam Cooke at RCA, they tend to overdo the violins by half, and it detracts from the impact of the singing, though not enough to seriously damage the value of this collection. And when the Isleys get to work with a straight guitar accompaniment, they can take even a chestnut like "St. Louis Blues" and give it considerable (and unexpected) energy. The real treasure here, though, is another old chestnut, "That Lucky Old Sun," which is as gorgeous a piece of music as the Isleys ever recorded, and so beautifully harmonized and arranged that it demands more than one listen. Interspersed around it are renditions of old standards and a few genre classics ("Rock Around the Clock") that are sometimes better showcases for the performers than they are songs. There's also an odd ironic edge to this collection: none of the material here did much more than brush the charts at the time, and most of it not even that, but so much of it became successful for other artists, from Lulu ("Shout") to the Outsiders ("Respectable"), that even the uninitiated will find plenty of familiar moments. Here are the originals, mainlined sonically in audiophile quality, in all their glory.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder