Who Wrote the Book on R&B?

Eternal (Dreamworks)
The Isley Brothers

By David Lilly

Do you know the answer to the above question? You might get a variety of answers if you asked enough fans of the rhythm and blues genre. As sexy as some of this music is, to get the authentic scoop the first thing you need to do is go to church during the early 1950s in Cincinnati, Ohio. Numerous churches, actually. That's where you'll find the singing and performing genesis of siblings Ronald, Rudolph, O'Kelly and Vernon Isley.

Vernon was killed in a car accident in the mid-Fifties, but singing and performing has been the remaining Isley brothers' business since - and it still is. Along the way, guess who made some of his first recordings with them? If you guessed Jimi Hendrix, you're correct.

I'll be honest with you; if this music came on a radio station I was listening to, I'd change to something else. That is NOT a criticism of the quality of the music, which is excellent. It just doesn't appeal to me a great deal. The introduction to the first song, "Move Your Body," sounds to me like a mating ritual between the theme from Shaft and Curtis Mayfield's singles "Freddy's Dead" or "Superfly." That doesn't last, though, as it segues into a rather steamy song, albeit still a mating ritual.

After that, for me, most of the rest of the CD sounds about the same, except for some adventurous guitar work. Some of it is right up front in the mix, while at other times it's in the background, or at least subtle enough to affect the music, but not so obvious that R&B fans will ask, "Hey, what's that crazy guitar doing in there?"

Along their many travels, the Isleys have, of course, spent time in Funkville, but the music on this disc is what they're up to now. Do them a favor, if you would. When you hear the R&B stars of today, please try to remember and respect those who started paving the way 40 years ago. If this CD is indicative, The Isleys are a class act.