The Isley Brothers

Masterpiece

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From 1973-1983, the Isley Brothers had a ten-year stint with CBS resulting in an unparalleled string of success with albums like The Heat Is On and Grand Slam. After 1983's classic Between the Sheets, the group fractured right down the middle. The younger members, Marvin Isley, Ernie Isley, and brother-in-law Chris Jasper left to become Isley/Jasper/Isley. The vocal part of the group, the "originals," O'Kelly, Rudolph, and lead singer Ronald Isley stayed together and signed with Warner Bros. Masterpiece is their first effort for the label. With the three exited members taking their instruments with them, the Isley Brothers had to employ L.A. session players. Unlike other R&B artists who did the same thing, the group served as producers here, which gave Masterpiece a singular, rich sound. If anything, the best tracks here are reminiscent of the group's more subdued work like "Welcome Into My Heart" and "Don't Hold Back Your Love." The first track "May I" juxtaposes skilled synthesizers to challenging melodies and warm musicianship. On the track "My Best Is Good Enough" like most of the songs on the album have lush string arrangements from Gene Page. What typified Masterpiece was a few choice ballads. "You Never Know When You're Gonna Fall in Love" and the Stevie Wonder- and Carmine Coppola-written ballad "Stay Gold" both have poignant and reserved vocals from Ronald Isley. Often on the majority of their late-'70s and early-'80s efforts sometimes-fatuous premises obscured the vocal prowess the group. On Masterpiece, that aspect is front and center. On the album's best track, the powerful "Come to Me" has Isley again giving a passionate performance as his brothers supplied a beautiful harmony that takes the song to another level. Although some fans may miss the booming basslines and customary double entendres of some of the Isley Brothers' work, Masterpiece took a more mature approach and it certainly paid off.

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