Tag Archives: O’Kelly Isley

Givin’ It Back: Remembering The First Isley Brothers Album Showcasing The 3+3 Lineup

Marvin Isley, the youngest of the Isley brothers, may have passed away eight years ago. But the Cinninati born bassist graduated from the C.W Post College with a degree in music. By that time, he’d already co-wrote a major hit with the Isley’s in “Fight The Power”. Of course, the first time he and Chris Jasper actually played with Marvin’s elder brothers Kelly,Rudy and Ron came six years earlier. It was on a 1971 album where the Isley’s covered many pop and rock hits of the late 60’s and the then present day. It was called Givin’ It Back. And here’s a review of I wrote shortly before Marvin’s passing.


The late 60’s began the Isley’s funk period,circa 1968-1970 when their tune “It’s Your Thing” was enormous and every album seemed to leap them forward somehow musically. Than came this album. It’s 1971 at this point and the optimism of and defiance of the late 60’s had turned to more cautious,inward reflection. This effect musicians of all colors and back rounds and it had it’s effect on the Isley’s too. This album presents elongated cover versions of different pop tunes associated with that era,most of which had some cultural or political bent.

The sepia toned album covers features the three Isley’s with acoustic guitars and you do here those to a degree on this album but despite the way this was actually presented to me this is NOT an acoustic album by any stretch of the imagination. More accurately I would describe it as a mildly more psychedelic funk take on the folk/soul movement that was gaining some popularity at the time of artists such as Bill Withers.

The one thing you can guarantee from the Isley’s is that whatever they do you’ll find some of the most impassioned,soulful and intelligent interpretive vocalizing one is likely to ever hear and this album has it coming out the wazoo! The album starts off with a very Ike Hayes-like ten minute take on “Ohio” and Hendrix’s “Machine Gun”,both a good choice for a medley yes but the unique thing is it’s cinematic soul presented with some acoustic instrumentation so you get two flavors merging into one,yet again.

The most impressive thing about their versions of “Fire And Rain”,”Lay Lady Lay” and especially “Spill The Wine”,with that song’s originally rapped lyric element actually sung this time is how fully Ron Isley in particularly re-harmonizes the vocal arrangements and even if the music is on the same groove somewhat as the originals (melodically anyway) all of these songs sound heavily re invented as opposed to merely covered. The albums closes with the liked minded “Love The One Your With” and with that there’s a tone set not just for this particular album but the Isley’s future in general.

In the years to come after this they would continue refining different combinations of the flavors of this and the previous three albums prior to it to with their famous 3+3 format so even if this music literally reaches into it’s very recent past for song ideas it’s conceptualization also look forward to where the brothers were going musically.


At the time of writing this review, I actually had no idea that this particular album was both Marvin Isley and cousin Chris Jasper’s first time appearing with their elder brothers and brother Ernie,who’d started playing with the Isley’s just a year before. The Isley’s  would go through some amazing changes during the earlier part of the 70s-from a psychedelic tinged funk/soul sound to the folk/soul singer-songwriter stylings of Givin’ It Back. They were playing many styles of music that went with what’s called the funk process. And as a bass player, Marvin was a major part of this transition.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Isley Brothers

Go For Your Guns: 40 Years Of A Funky Voyage To Atlantis With The Isley Brothers

Go For Your Guns

Go For Your Guns is an album whose 40th anniversary occurred over a month ago. And it was something that pretty much demanded to be over viewed here. My interest in the Isley’s 70’s music flowed from Rickey Vincent’s book on funk during that time. He referred to them as the epitome of funky manhood-with Chaka Khan as the female equivalent of the time. How I ended up with a CD of  Go For Your Guns is a story in and of itself. And has a good deal to do with my great appreciation of this album over the years. Its actually included in my Amazon.com review I’ll include here.


Normally I tend not to do this. But there’s a personal connection with this album in my own life surrounding this album. During the Ice Storm of 1998,power was half out and everyone everywhere in the state of Maine was snowed in and/or iced in. It was an uncomfortably claustrophobic environment. The second day out,the driveway was cleared out just enough so people could get in and out of it. So we all ended up taking a drive to the nearby Borders Books & Music where,in their music section,they’d actually open and re-package a brand new CD if you wanted to listen to it.

I was in the R&B/soul section,where I always went first and say this album. I’d never heard any 70’s era Isley Brothers. Read about them during that period in Ricky Vincent’s Funk: The Music, The People, and The Rhythm of The One but had only heard them at that time via their newest album at the time Mission to Please. So I listened to the album and,since the price was exactly right for me that’s what I took home that night. I put my headphones on and listened. Listened in a context of great risk that the power might go out again and the family would swing into instant emergency mode. That didn’t happen. Yet this album made me feel very confident that better things were coming. Now,I’ll tell you why.

“Pride” starts the album out with some high octane wah wah and electric piano as Ron declares “when you finally break it on down/it’s your pride”-the Isley’s crowning manifesto of masculine consciousness that I think of as their most self defining funk jam of that era. With it’s creamily textured guitar and keyboard lines,the complicated melodic exchanges of the ballad type funk in “Footsteps In The Dark” evoke the lyrical imagery of a mature yet tentative romantic relationship with an uncertain future.

Chris Jasper’s pulsing synthesizer seems to call out from both above and below the spongy and melodic funk of “Tell Me That You Need It Again”-with Ron’s strong minded seduction oozing out of both the music and lyrics as well as the Isley’s ever did during this era. “Climbin’ Up The Ladder” goes right for the jugular of Ernie Isley’s guitar for a furious rocker with a clean,tight bluesy melody-again with Ron in his powerfully growling lower vocal range.

“Voyage To Atlantic” is a slower rocker focusing on an elaborate romantic fantasy. “Livin’ In The Life” and the instrumental companion title song are some of the most flat out amazing music the Isley Brothers ever made. It is the probably the most effective heavy metal funk ever made. The groove is solid and tight. Yet the synthesizers and Ernie’s guitar on the title song assault the music with a heavy biting steel. So the song accomplishes everything by embodying both funk’s instrumental cleanliness and rock’s instrumental passion.

Overall the one quality that defines this album is complete and utter confidence. It isn’t all necessarily testosterone fueled male ego by any means. Ron Isley goes out of his way to try to bring the feminine characters in this song to understand where he’s coming from-tending to respect their intelligence rather than demean them. More over however,on both an instrumental and vocal level,this album comes at the listener with the fervor of a sociopolitical musical preacher.

Some of the messages are non specific enough to be appealing to just about everybody,but the message is that love of the world begins with self confidence you can bring out in others. And the Isley’s all had plenty of reason to be confident with this album. As the 70’s wore on they gained progressively more and more control over every aspect of their music-from writing,producing and arrangement. Of course it wouldn’t be long after this that this would turn into some ugly ego regarding the generational differences of how the two sets of brothers conducted creative matters.

I do think that the strong level of confidence this album projects gives the listener the most positive overall view of the funk era. It certainly affirmed my appreciation of the music during a tense time for those around me even. And even at times when my confidence in funk itself was swayed for whatever reason? This album reminded me of what I loved about the music that no one could ever mistaken the sentiments of. So in that context along with the high quality music,this is one of a handful of funk albums I recommend as downright essential.


Go For Your Guns is album that hit me the moment I heard it,had the same effect when writing this review and its likely it always will. The Isley Brothers,especially during the 3+3 era combining the two generations of brothers in the family,dominated their funk in the recording studio much the same way they dominated the stage when performing live. Their music and persona was always a smoldering,passionately poetic funky fire that burns very strongly on every song on this album. Encourage all of you reading this who haven’t yet heard the album to check it out. You might just have a similar reaction.

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Isley Brothers