Friday, July 9, 2021

The Albums of 1971: The Isley Brothers: Givin' It Back


Release Date: September 25, 1971

Members: Ronald Isley (vocals); Ernie Isley (lead guitar); Marvin Isley (bass); O'Kelly Isley (vocals); Rudolph Isley (vocals); Chris Jasper (piano); Chester Woodard (guitar)

Produced by Ronald Isley, Rudolph Isley

Track List: Ohio/Machine Gun; Fire and Rain; Lay Lady Lay; Spill the Wine; Nothing to Do But Today; Cold Bologna; Love the One You're With

The Isley Brothers began their career in 1954 as teenagers when rock and roll was still in its infancy and continue performing and recording seven decades later. Their astoundingly long and varied career is a history of modern popular music itself. Yet there's no book length study of The Isley Brothers, at least nothing like the tomes written on so many other artists from the era. Hopefully that will change with a documentary in the works.

The Isley Brothers hailed from Cincinnati. They started out as a gospel group and recorded many crossover hits in the early 1960s including "Twist and Shout" and "Shout" and many other charting singles with various labels. Motown was their home base from 1966-69 where they continued recording hit singles, but they were just getting started. With younger brothers Ernie and Marvin joining the group in 1970, their sound continued to evolve with each record - ranging from rock, folk, and funk. 

Givin' It Back is an album of covers by mostly white artists, returning the favor since so many white bands had covered them, the freaking Beatles chose "Twist and Shout" as the grand finale on their debut LP!

The album opens with "Ohio/Machine Gun", a hypnotic mash up of Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix (a former guitarist for the Isley Brothers). The original CSN&Y recording featured an onslaught of sonic infused anger, the Isleys incorporated gospel, doo-wop, while retaining the rock roots of the song, creating a complex emotional journey on the ramifications of  the Kent St. massacre. "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor begins as a soulful lament and settles into an impassioned acoustic number. Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" is reimagined as a ten minute long reggae/country western foot stomper. 

A rendition of War's "Spill the Wine" never strays too far from the original source (even includes the flute). "Nothing to do Today" by Stephen Stills is performed as easy going soul in the polished Motown style. "Cold Bologna" written by Bill Withers is a reflective acoustic track recalling childhood in Harlem. Another Stephen Stills cover, "Love the One You're With," ends the record on a festive note. 

Givin' It Back features the versatility of The Isley Brothers at the start of a revolutionary decade in their epic career - highly recommended!

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