The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers Story, Vol. 1: Rockin' Soul (1959-68)

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When Sony/Legacy decided to reassert control of the Isley Brothers' catalog, it sent Rhino's excellent two-volume set The Isley Brothers Story out of print. Unfortunately, thus far, Legacy hasn't done nearly as good a job re-compiling the Isleys' catalog in any coherent fashion, meaning that if you can track down the Rhino anthologies somehow, you'll be much better off. The Isley Brothers Story, Vol. 1: Rockin' Soul is a single-disc overview of their R&B material (20 tracks in all) prior to their metamorphosis into a self-contained funk band. In reality, 1959-1968 were uneven years for the Isleys, who leaped from style to style and label to label, cutting records of variable quality. But their best moments could be positively transcendent, and the neat trick of Vol. 1 is that it makes the group sound as though they could do no wrong, no matter what they tried. Spinning through gospel-drenched call-and-response tunes, twist-craze dance records, smoother Chicago-style soul, and even a stint on Motown, the collection holds together surprisingly well, thanks to the group's own frenzied energy. Ronald Isley's unhinged leads, and the chemistry he and his brothers share, will make you wonder why the Isleys aren't mentioned as early architects of soul music more often. That's especially true on the call-and-response insanity of cuts like "Shout" and "Testify," where the group works itself up into a raucous frenzy of screams, cries, and wails, all taken at a mind-blowingly manic pace. But their chemistry enlivens everything here, even the smoother and more produced Motown material; in fact, that helps make "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)" one of the label's all-time greatest moments. Interesting trivia: "Who's That Lady" was later transformed into the funk smash "That Lady," and "Testify" marks one of the earliest recordings by a young Jimi Hendrix.

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