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The Isleys “Brother, Brother, Brother” (T-Neck, 1972)

You really can’t go wrong with any ’60s or ’70s Isleys album. Their long-term quality control has been impressive, especially for a group that’s charted with regularity. With bros Ernie (guitars), Marvin (bass, percussion), and Ronald (vocals) in peak form and brother-in-law Chris Jasper contributing crucial piano and tambourine embellishments, Brother, Brother, Brother was truly a family affair. I bet Sly Stone was a fan.

This is the album where the Isleys’ love of pop singer/songwriter Carole King really blossomed. Even if you’re not a King aficionado, though, you gotta appreciate what the Isleys do with her tunes. The opening “Brother, Brother” is a tender King ballad elevated by Ronald’s sublimely smooth and warm vocal timbre. I’m not a big fan of ballads by soul/funk artists, but the Isleys were, uh, kings in this realm, up there with Al Green and Bill Withers. King and Toni Stern’s “Sweet Seasons” is ambling, congenial commercial R&B that smoothly segues into “Keep On Walkin’,” whose chugging soul rock is marked by Ernie’s unimpeachably funky guitar riffing and Truman Thomas’ Deep Purple/”Hush”-evoking organ.

On “Pop That Thang,” the Isleys return to the squirming, über-funky sound in the vein of the instantly infectious and oft-covered “It’s Your Thing.” “Lay Away” offers yet another variation on that slow, rutting funk groove. It’s pure fucking music, but this time the lyrics conflate love with consumerism. Who knew the Isleys were so cynical? The most popular cut on streaming services, “Work To Do” was my anthem when I worked at a certain Seattle alt-weekly, because of my onerous deadlines, you see. Man, this song resonates. It doesn’t hurt that the rolling, laid-back groove counters the lyrics’ hyper-responsible message—a very satisfying paradox. Plus, it features one of Ron’s most moving vocal performances—which is saying a lot.

On “It’s Too Late,” the Isleys slow this 1971 Carole King smash hit—not unlike what Isaac Hayes did with “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”—and elongate it to 10:31 while infusing it with so much soul, Ms. King had to admit that the brothers had outshone her. Rumors that she dabbed her eyes with her massive royalty statements could not be confirmed at press time. The album ends with “Love Put Me On The Corner,” a ponderous yet poignant ballad with Thomas’ organ carrying much of the churchy weight. I would’ve sequenced the album to end with “It’s Too Late,” but what do I know? I’m just a lowly blogger.

The good thing about these vintage Isleys albums—besides all of the fantastic soul and funk gems filling them, of course—is that they’re pretty easy to find and relatively inexpensive. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

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