A Shot of Soul
The Manhattans - Isley/Jasper/Isley - Isley Brothers
Part Two of Two
First Appeared at The Music Box, August 2003, Volume 10, #8
Written by John Metzger
The Manhattans got its start in the 1960s as an R&B outfit that was heavily influenced by doo-wop. However, the untimely death of lead singer George Smith along with the public’s shifting musical tastes caused the ensemble to embark on a new direction that embraced the Philly Soul sounds pioneered by the production team of Gamble and Huff. In 1976, under the guidance of producer/arranger Bobby Martin, the group released a self-titled album that featured the songs Hurt and Kiss and Say Goodbye. The former tune had been released as a single the previous year, while the latter became The Manhattans’ biggest hit, soaring to the top of both the R&B and pop charts. Unfortunately, commercial success doesn’t always translate into artistic creativity. By the mid-’70s, Philly Soul had become a pale imitation of itself, and most songs from the sub-genre sounded extremely similar and featured the same basic arrangements. Not to mention, the lyrical content now fell into the "I need you girl/I miss you girl/I love you girl"-mold. Of course, when one puts this into perspective with acts that came of age in the more recent years, The Manhattans’ self-titled release sounds more like a classic than it really should. The vocals were tight, smooth, and occasionally moving, but the arrangements, especially when compared with the group’s better outing After Midnight — were as lackluster as could be. At its best, the eponymous album sounded like a watered-down version of Motown, specifically Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On, while at its worst, it sank into the mire of spoken-word segments that drifted over glossy harmonies and monotonous orchestrations. Bonus cuts on the recent reissue include a brief interview segment, an instrumental rendition of Take It or Leave It, and an alternate mix of Searching for Love.
The Manhattans is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
Caravan of Love: The Best of Isley-Jasper-Isley
Marvin and Ernie Isley along with Chris Jasper formed one-half of the legendary Isley Brothers during its ’70s heyday, but in 1984, the trio departed to become its own entity. Unfortunately, the ’80s was a rather bleak time for music in general as the usage of synthesizers tended to pervade everything from rock to pop to R&B, and this is largely the downfall of the combo’s three albums. The recently released Caravan of Love: The Best of Isley-Jasper-Isley plucks 16 tracks from these outings to form a rather gracious assortment, considering only 1985’s Caravan of Love — the original album of that title, not to be confused with this similarly titled retrospective collection — is worth a listen. Even so, that release wasn’t without its faults: Insatiable Woman is corny as can be, and If You Believe in Love is sappy tripe. Despite its silky synth arrangement, the title track was a moving call for world peace and brotherly love that demonstrated the group hadn’t followed quite so closely with the rest of the R&B pack in abandoning its early quest for social awareness, and Liberation’s deliciously funky grooves form the basis for much of Lenny Kravitz’s catalog. Unfortunately, the rest of the Isley-Jasper-Isley collection never really gets off the ground.
Caravan of Love: The Best of Isley-Jasper-Isley is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
The Isley Brothers
3 + 3
Though Chris Jasper as well as Ernie and Marvin Isley had performed with the Isley Brothers for several years, it was on 3 + 3 that they became official members, lending the album its title. Throughout its career, the Isley Brothers had delved into gospel, R&B, Motown, and funk, but it was the group’s expansion into rock, led by Ernie Isley’s Hendrix-ian axe-wielding, that scored the Isley Brothers its biggest critical and commercial successes in the ’70s. Many consider 3 + 3 to be the band’s masterpiece, and indeed, it is a remarkable effort that surely ranks among the top soul outings of all-time, drawing from every style of music the Isley Brothers ever explored.
Interestingly, half of 3 + 3 is comprised of cover songs, but they might as well have been original compositions given the manner in which each is reconfigured by the Isley Brothers as splendidly stirring soul-pop gems. The group tips its hat to Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder on James Taylor’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight and Jonathan Edwards’ Sunshine (Go Away Today), respectively; the Doobie Brothers’ Listen to the Music is branded with a funky groove that merges Sly & the Family Stone with the Isaac Hayes/David Porter-penned classic Soul Man; Seals & Crofts’ soft-rock hit Summer Breeze is transformed into a blistering guitar-based anthem; and the Isleys’ then-decade-old That Lady is polished into a well-worn classic.
On its 1972 release Brother, Brother, Brother, the Isleys tackled three songs by Carole King, and her influence — if not her songs — frequently can be heard bubbling to the surface throughout 3 + 3, whether it be through Chris Jasper’s elegant piano or Ronald Isley’s soaring pop and gospel-inflected vocals, though this is particularly noticeable on the reflective strains of The Highways of My Life. Elsewhere, the ensemble adds a Four Tops/Temptations-like twist to You Walk Your Way and returns to territory tread by Stevie Wonder on What It Comes Down To.
Only one bonus track is included on the recent reissue of 3 + 3, and while it is a incendiary concert cut of That Lady recorded in 1980, it’s hardly reason to purchase a second copy of the CD. The remastering given the album, however, is sufficient motive to do so as it now carries the vibrancy for which its music has yearned for the better part of thirty years. And for those wondering where to begin in plumbing the Isley Brothers’ catalog, look no further than 3 + 3. After all, it’s a classic.
3 + 3 is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
Of Further Interest...
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box