Music » Critics' Picks

The Isley Brothers

Saturday, May 22; Fox Theatre


Younger fans who first discovered the Isley Brothers through recent recordings like "Eternal" (2001) and "Body Kiss" (2003) likely think of the group mostly as purveyors of smooth R&B ballads and lead singer Ronald Isley as "Mr. Biggs," the broken-hearted, sharp-dressing gangsta character who has appeared in videos for R. Kelly, Foxy Brown, Nas and others. But if they dig into the record collections of their older siblings, parents or grandparents, they'll discover the Isleys are one of the true royal families of American music, owning the extraordinary distinction of charting songs in six different decades beginning with "Shout" way back in 1959. Since then, they've given the world a long series of hits that include rock standards ("Twist and Shout"); a certifiable Motown classic ("This Old Heart of Mine"); bracing, socially conscious funk ("It's Your Thing" and "Fight The Power"); unexpected, yet effective, covers from white rock songwriters ("Summer Breeze" and "Hello It's Me") and quiet-storm love songs too numerous to mention. Spanning the eras from doo-wop to hip-hop, the Isleys' core assets -- Ronald's soulful-yet-gritty crooning and an ability to adapt shrewdly to changing musical trends - have served them and their listeners very well over the years.

First gaining fame as a trio featuring Ronald and brothers Rudolph and O'Kelly, the group expanded to a sextet in the '70s with the addition of cousin Chris Jasper and younger siblings Marvin and Ernie, a flashy, Hendrix-inspired guitarist. O'Kelly passed away in 1986 and Rudolph retired from music a few years later, so these days Ronald and Ernie are carrying the family banner. With such a deep catalog, many of their older hits now are relegated to an extended medley in concert, but Ronald's vocal power and showmanship and Ernie's searing guitar stylings remain undiminished. The Isley Brothers' career longevity is certainly noteworthy, but their ability to remain contemporary after forty-five years in the music business is nothing short of astounding. Long may they reign.

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