The Isley Brothers and Santana – The Power of Peace

Isley Brothers Sanatana The Power of Peace
Title: The Power of Peace

Artist: The Isley Brothers and Santana

Label: Sony Legacy

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: July 28, 2017


The Power of Peace blends the signature styles of powerhouse performers Carlos Santana and brothers Ron and Ernie Isley into a beautiful tribute to several influential artists whose musical styles range from funk to soul and jazz. Centered on the themes of peace and love, this project is sure to excite listeners as iconic songs are infused with new flavor.

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The album opens with a bang featuring a cover of the Chamber Brothers’ song “Are You Ready.” Layered percussion and drums performed by Santana and his wife Cindy Blackman Santana alongside an intoxicating electric guitar (also by Santana) create a funky and fun soundscape and prepares the listener for a stimulating musical experience. The band maintains this momentum throughout the next two tracks, Swamp Dogg’s “Total Destruction of the Mind” and Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” on which Santana performs riveting electric guitar accompaniment and solos.

The middle of the album changes pace with a group of softer, slower pieces extolling the beauty of romantic love. Cindy Santana sings her sensual new song “I Remember” with playful background support by Ron Isley. Similarly, Isley and his expert use of falsetto is utterly captivating on the ensemble’s cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman.” The male R&B “quartet” sound that shaped the original version is largely absent as the band employs a classic smooth groove, slower tempo and mixed background voices to transform this song into a mesmerizing, seductive ode to unrequited love. Santana and Isley also shine while performing Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon’s frequently covered hit “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” Santana’s energizing guitar riffs and Isley’s vocal dexterity (including growls, moans, etc.) make this a standout track on the album.

The Power of Peace concludes with songs about social justice and harmony such as Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)” and Dionne Warwick and Jackie DeShannon’s “What the World Need Now is Love Sweet Love.” Isley sensitively delivers these musical messages while supported by Santana’s earnest and beautifully crafted instrumental accompaniment.

While the musical pairing of The Isley Brothers and Carlos Santana would seem unexpected, this project is the realization of a dream. Santana, who has numerous accolades as an artist, now desires to chart new waters and create music with his longtime favorite musicians including the “incomparable” voice of Ron Isley. Listeners will certainly be glad that some dreams do come true as they are inspired, surprised, and entertained by the fresh music of The Power of Peace.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins


Isley Brothers – Go For Your Guns

Title: Go For Your Guns

Artist: Isley Brothers

Label: Iconoclassic

Format: CD (expanded ed.)

Release date: July 29, 2016


Look let’s be honest, most Isley Brothers fans know the 1977 album Go For Your Guns for its big hits “Footsteps In The Dark” and “Voyage To Atlantis.”  Also, these two particular songs are usually included on most Isley Brothers Greatest Hits compilations, so why might a reissue of Go For Your Guns be worth a spin?  Well, there are a couple of reasons. The first is to reintroduce the record as whole. The entire album.  This is a powerful piece of work that really illustrates that the Isley Brothers are, in a lot of ways, still underrated considering their contribution to modern popular music.  Beyond the hits, also included are tracks such as “The Pride”—which sets the album in righteous fashion with an exploration of one of life’s major motivations—and “Tell Me When You Need It Again” complete with a fat, funky bassline courtesy of Marvin Isley, plus one of my favorites, “Climbing Up the Ladder.”  The latter is as funky and rock-edged a workout as any early Funkadelic side.  Ernie Isley really leans into guitar, demonstrating his prowess with a biting guitar solo which illustrates how powerful the brothers became as a unit with their 3+3 lineup. This lineup had begun a few albums prior, adding brothers Ernie and Marvin on guitar and bass respectively, as well as brother-in-law Chris Jasper on keyboards, to the vocal trio of Ron, Rudolph, and O’Kelly.  Ernie also flexes on the album’s title track, which is essentially an extension of the funk groove from “Livin’ the Life.” This edition, digitally remastered from the master tapes, also includes three bonus tracks including the disco versions of “The Pride” and “Livin’ in the Life/Go for Your Guns.”

The second reason to pick up this re-release, as most lovers of reissues might tell you, is for the stories included in the liner notes. This reissue does not disappoint.  Written by A. Scott Galloway, who is clearly both a funk and Isley Brothers aficionado, the notes are chock full of great stories. I won’t spoil too much here, but for those who are fans of shows like VH1’s Behind The Music and TV One’s Unsung, there are some gems here.  For example, the Isleys were tapped to contribute one of the songs from Go For Your Guns to the soundtrack that became Saturday Night Fever.  Interested in which song it was and why in God’s name they decided not to do it? That question and more are answered in Galloway’s engaging liner notes.

And yes, I’ve purposely circumvented making this review all about the big hits, but I must say, the bridge on “Voyage To Atlantis” is still as ethereal (and lit) as it ever was.  (On a side note, I did a quick cursory search and “Voyage” has been sampled over 40 times and only one producer has flipped the bridge groove as opposed to the main groove.  How is that possible??) Anyway, great record + great notes = great reissue.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

Isley Brothers – Groove With You…Live!

Title: Groove With You…Live!

Artist: Isley Brothers

Label: Real Gone Music

Format: CD

Release date: September 2, 2016


First released as a limited edition LP for Record Store Day 2015, the “lost live album” by the Isley Brothers is now available for the first time on CD, thanks to Real Gone Music. But first, let’s set the record straight—this is not an actual live concert album. Recorded in 1980 at Bearsville Sound Studio in Woodstock, New York, the engineers overdubbed crowd noise between (and over) tracks, along with the opening introduction of the group by MC “Gorgeous” George Odell. Passed over by CBS, Groove With You…Live! was shelved for 35 years until it was released last year in its original form on vinyl, and then remastered from the pre-overdubbed session tapes for inclusion in Legacy’s 23-CD box set, The RCA Victor and T-Neck Album Masters, 1959-1983.*

Real Gone’s CD maintains the final, overdubbed “live” version as conceived by the Isley Brothers, and showcases the six man line-up that combined founding members Ronald, Rudolph, and O’Kelly Isley with younger brothers Ernie and Marvin Isley plus Rudolph’s brother-in-law Chris Jasper. Also joining the group for the studio sessions were drummer Everett Collins and Kevin Jones on congas and percussion.

Featured on the album are many of the group’s greatest hits from the 1970s, including the Latin- tinged “That Lady” electrified by Ernie’s lead guitar, the funky “Take Me to the Next Phase” and “Livin’ in the Life,” the message song “Fight the Power,” and the iconic “Summer Breeze.” Some of the tracks, such as “Voyage to Atlantis” and “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time For Love)” are considerably longer than the original album versions, lending to the “live” feel of this project.

Joe Marchese’s extensive liner notes remind us of the 50-year legacy of the Cincinnati-born Isley Brothers, starting with their seminal hit song “Shout” in 1959 and their 1962 cover of “Twist and Shout,” which influenced the version released by the Beatles the following year. Quotes from interviews with Ernie Isley and Chris Jasper punctuate the text, and indicate the Isley’s had all but forgotten about this shelved album until quite recently.

If you don’t already have the 23-CD box set (highly recommended), you should certainly consider this new release if you’re not bothered by questions of authenticity in the mix.

* Groove With You…Live! is listed as The Wild in Woodstock: The Isley Brothers Live at Bearsville Sound Studio on Legacy’s 23-CD set, and is available under that title in a MP3 version.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

The Isley Brothers – The RCA Victor and T-Neck Album Masters, 1959-1983

Isley Brothers Complete Art._SY355_

Title: The RCA Victor and T-Neck Album Masters, 1959-1983

Artist: Isley Brothers

Label: Legacy

Format: 23-CD box set

Release date: August 21, 2015


How many artists rate a 23 disc box set? In the case of the Isley Brothers, 23 are more than warranted, especially when most are filled out with rare and unreleased tracks from the Brothers’ prime years.


The original trio of O’Kelly, Rudolph and Ronald Isley scored their first hit with the original version of “Shout!” on RCA-Victor in 1959, but left the label in 1960 after one album and a few singles, all included on the first disc. The fits, starts and frustrations of their subsequent work for Wand and Motown—which produced “Twist and Shout” and “This Old Heart of Mine” but no other major hits—are not part of this set, which jumps to the spring of 1969 on the second disc. Nevertheless, there are a few tantalizing performances issued as singles by other labels in the 1964-65 period when young Jimi Hendrix was the Isleys’ guitarist.

The leap to 1969 makes for a dramatic and jarring transition, and it marks the beginning of one the greatest runs of creativity and success in pop, rock or rhythm & blues. “It’s Our Thing” was the first album released by the Isleys on their T-Neck label, named for their adopted home of Teaneck, New Jersey. The album and hit single “It’s Your Thing,” served notice that the Isleys’ blend of soul, funk and rock would be competing head to head with dominant artists like James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone.

Discs 3, 4 & 5 chronicle an exhilarating period of barely a year in which the Isleys release three albums: “The Brothers: Isley,” the all-star double album “Live at Yankee Stadium” and ”Get Into Something.” The familiar six man line-up of the 1970s and early 1980s crystallized in this period, as younger brothers Ernie, Marvin and brother-in-law Chris Jasper formed the nucleus of the original trio’s backing band.

In 1971, the Isleys released “Givin’ It Up,” a collection of covers by songwriters ranging from Bob Dylan to Bill Withers. The opening track fused Neil Young’s song of the Kent State massacre “Ohio” with Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” to create a harrowing nine searing and apocalyptic minutes led by Ernie Isley’s scorching guitar lines and feedback. Throughout the decade, the Isleys would remake and rethink many unlikely songs, including Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” and Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me.”

The Isleys went from triumph to triumph for the rest of the decade, all ably presented here. An unreleased album of hits recorded live in the studio in 1980 is one of the later highlights of the set, as the Isleys moved into a period in which they were strongly affected by the “Quiet Storm” trend in rhythm & blues, though always with a distinctive Isley’s touch, such as the sizzling guitar lines that animate “Choosy Lover” from the last album in the set, 1983’s heavily sampled Between the Sheets.

Sensitive notes by Lynell George and A. Scott Galloway round out the package and superior mastering of a broad range of analog sources by Mark Wilder does the music proud. Big as it is, this set has been priced to move, and is unlikely to suffer the doorstop fate of many overly ambitious box sets.

Reviewed by Matthew Barton

From the Heart

Legacy Recordings has launched a new From the Heart series this month to coincide with Valentine’s Day and Black History Month. Like the previous Beautiful Ballad series released in February of 2007 and 2008, each From the Heart compilation features classic R&B and jazz ballads that have been digitally remastered and come with gift tags affixed to the jewel case.  Among the nine featured artists are Babyface, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, the Isley Brothers, and Etta James (Frank Sinatra, Air Supply, and Dolly Parton discs are also available).

Of course we have to kick this off with Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, since he’s an Indiana native (his brother was once a member of IU’s Soul Revue). Babyface was one of the masters of the romantic ballad in the ’80s, and this compilation draws strongly from his early work on the Solar and Epic labels. Included among the chart topping hits is his cover of the Stylistic’s “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” along with a good representation of his original songs, such as “Whip Appeal,” “When Can I See You?”, “Never Keeping Secrets,”and “Everytime I Close My Eyes.” The most recent material is drawn from his 1996 album The Day, including “This Is For the Lover In You,” featuring LL Cool J.

If you’d prefer instrumental ballads, the Miles Davis CD offers them in abundance. As one might expect, selections include “My Funny Valentine” (a rare live version from 1965), “Stella by Starlight” (1958, with Coltrane, Adderly and Evans), and the Gershwin favorites “I Loves You Porgy” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” from Porgy and Bess arrangements by Gil Evans. The one rather unexpected track is Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” which Miles turned into a jazz standard in this 1985 version.

Given all of the attention on Etta James lately, its no wonder that Legacy chose to dust off some of her masters. Most of the tracks are from recordings she made in the last couple of decades, and focus more on jazz than R&B.  If you’re not overly familiar with James, the compilation does show off her versatility.  The CD opens with her first big hit “At Last,” which of course was recently covered by Beyonce in the film Cadillac Records and at one of the inaugural balls (and no doubt will be heard ad nauseam on this season of American Idol).  There is a definite focus on the Great American Songbook, including “My Funny Valentine,” “The Man I Love,” “Night and Day,” and “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” but her R&B side is not completely ignored. Cover versions of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and Brook Benton’s “I’ll Take Care Of You” are thrown in for good measure, and certainly don’t disappoint.

If you’re looking for more jazz ballads, look no further than the Lady Day.  Once again the focus is on the Great American Songbook, and here Billie Holiday launches into her most popular classics, some of which duplicate the Etta James selections.  Most of the recordings were drawn from her 1933-1944 Columbia catalog (issued on the Brunswick and Vocalion labels), and include “Night and Day,” “Summertime,” and “The Man I Love,” along with “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” from her final Columbia session in 1942 (before she jumped over to Decca).

The Queen of Soul is represented by some of her earlier Columbia releases, including “Unforgettable” from the 1964 Tribute to Dinah Washington, and “Misty” from the 1965 album Yeah!!!.  The bulk of the Aretha Franklin CD focuses on her work with Luther Vandross in the early ’80s and features the hit “Every Girl (Wants My Guy)” along with “Love Me Right,” “I Got Your Love,” and “Giving In,” among others. Her collaboration with producer Narada Michael Walden is represented by several tracks, such as the duet with James Brown “Gimme Your Love,” while the final tracks are drawn from more recent albums.

Last but not least is a collection of slow jams from the Isley Brothers, primarily drawn from their T-Neck and Epic albums of the ’70s and early ’80s, and of course including tracks from 1985’s Caravan of Love (the latter officially released under the name Isley, Jasper, Isley).  Some of the biggest hits from this period are represented, such as “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time For Love),” “Choosey Lover,” “Lay Lady Lay,” and “Let’s Fall In Love (Parts 1 & 2).”
Now that’s got to be enough to put anyone in the mood for Valentine’s Day! None of these are by any means definitive compilations, but for the most part they include a well-balanced mix of romantic favorites, and the CDs will certainly last longer than flowers or a box of chocolates. Buyers should note, however, that some of these compilations have been previously released under alternate titles.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss