Isley Brothers It's Your Thing: The Story of the Isley Brothers (Epic Associated/T-Neck/Legacy)
Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Dec. 10, 1999
It's Your Thing: The Story of the Isley Brothers (Epic Associated/T-Neck/Legacy)Very few acts can say they've gone with the ebb and flow of popular music from the Fifties through the Nineties and remained vital and influential. The Isley Brothers have been making music for 40 years and are most certainly among those few. While there have been previously released greatest hits packages from the Isleys that focused on one aspect or another of their long career, It's Your Thing: The Story of the Isley Brothers is the first to do a respectable job of illustrating the entire scope of the group's musical journey. It spans all 11 labels the band has recorded for and includes all of their hits along with a few rare and historic moments. Their first single, 1957's "Angels Cried?" on the tiny Teenage label, is here as well as two tracks recorded in the mid-Sixties, when the band included a then-unknown guitarist named Jimi Hendrix. The book included with this 3-CD set is a fascinating piece of work. The Isley's story takes shape in their own words along with statements from the likes of contemporaries such as Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire and Bobby Womack. With a few well-written essays, it illuminates the where, why, and how of the Isleys' ability to adapt to the times. The biggest quibble one could have with this set is the way the discs are organized. At first, it's chronological, then becomes random, jumping from one period to another, which is confusing. Yet the set is opened in an inventive way; the Isleys weave a long take of their first hit, "Shout," from their Live at Yankee Stadium album, into the single version of the song, later immortalized by John Belushi and friends in Animal House, into a performance on the Sixties television show, Shindig. In this way, they give the listener a taste of how dynamic they really were as a live act. The mid-Seventies was an interesting period for the band. They were running their own label, T-Neck, which allowed them to go in any direction they chose. That they elected to lay down some heavy, guitar-laden funk was surprisingly inventive, but equally intriguing was their ability to take pop hits of the day from white artists and remake them in their own image. These include such tunes as Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breeze," Todd Rundgren's "Hello It's Me," and a version of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" that shows exactly where Lenny Kravitz is coming from. The later days of the Isley Brothers saw them become masters of the Quiet Storm, Ronald Isley's soulful vocals whispering and moaning about love and the heart in ways that one would have thought impossible in the raucous days of "Shout." In the end, It's Your Thing is a remarkable journey through the musical landscape of the past 40 years. It shows why the Isley Brothers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. They know how to rock, but only with a ton of soul.