The Isley Brothers – The Heat Is On – Speakers Corner Records

by | Oct 31, 2019 | Jazz CD Reviews, Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

The Isley Brothers – The Heat Is On – T-Neck/Epic Records (1975) PZ 33536/Speakers Corner Records (2017) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 37:03 *****:

(Ernie Isley – drums, guitar, drums percussion; Marvin Isley – bass, vocals; O’Kelly Isley Jr. – vocals; Ronald Isley – vocals; Rudolph Isley – vocals; Chris Jasper – keyboards, clavinet, piano, percussion, vocals)

The Isley Brothers have been one of the most enduring rhythm and blues groups in musical history. Raised in Cincinnati, the brothers (Kelly, Rudolph, Ronny and Vernon) began their career as a gospel singing group with doo wop inclinations. They came to prominence in 1959 with the self-penned hit “Shout”. While this was a modest success at the time, the song has become a cultural touchstone. On different labels, The Isley Brothers still primarily a vocal group, had other top 20 hits including “Twist And Shout” and “This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)”. But in 1969, when they added Ernie Isley on electric guitar and drums, the group achieved significant crossover success with their biggest hit “It’s Your Thing”. The single reached # 2 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the R & B chart. Significantly, the album was issued on their own label T-Neck Records. As the band expanded, it now included Ernie, Marvin, O’Kelly, Ronald, Rudolph and brother-in-law Chris Jaspar. The Isley brothers were a complete entity, handling songwriting, production and arrangement. Subsequent albums Givin’ It Back (1971), Brother, Brother, Brother (1972), 3+3 (1973) and Live It Up (1974) further established The Isley Brothers as major soul stars. Their next release, The Heat Is On represented an expanded soul and funk collection that brought socio-political themes and refined instrumentation into the repertoire. It went double platinum and reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard Pop Charts. This represented a commercial and creative peak for the group.

Isley Brothers, by John Mathew Smith

Isley Brothers,
by John Mathew Smith

Speakers Corner Records has re-mastered The Heat Is On to 180-gram vinyl. This technology upgrade underscores the more sophisticated evolvement of the band. All of the songs were written by the band. Like many r & b artists in the 1970’s (Gil Scott Heron, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and James Brown), politics took a more prominent role in music. Side One opens with a classic song, “Fight The Power (Part1 & 2)”. It is a political statement (“…We gonna fight the powers that be…”) with a funky backbone. Ernie Isley’s smoking drums and Chris Jasper’s  clavinet produce a relentless hypnotic groove. The growling, multi-dimensional vocals of Ronny Isley are gritty and compelling. A steady repeat chord sequence keeps the momentum going. Interestingly, this song was sampled by Public Enemy and used in the Spike Lee movie Do The Right Thing, giving it a second wind. “The Heat Is On (Part 1 & 2)” continues the soul/funk vine, but with a nastier feel.There are heavy, effect-laden guitars with full-out acid rock solos. ARP synthesizers (programmed by 70’s legends Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff) deliver a texture to complement the raw acoustics. In a smoother arrangement, “Hope You Feel Better Love (Part 1 & 2)” is soulful, but with pop sensibilities. There is a spirited rock jam with searing, distorted guitar tones. A steady pulsating rhythm is hypnotic.

Side Two has a trio of mellow, slow dance mood shifters. “For The Love Of You (Part 1 & 2)” has a lilting Memphis-style wistfulness that is Al-Green worthy. Ronny’s transformative vocals (with falsetto) are emotional. Jasper’s electric piano and flute-synthesizer approximate a contemporary jazz translation, but with “in-the-pocket- soulful elegance. The atmospheric tapestry continues on “Sensuality (part 1 & 2)”. This is soul balladry at its best. Jasper’s glowing synth lines frame Isley’s quietly urgent passion. The finale, “Make Me Say It Again Girl (Part 1 & 2)” executes a never-ending refrain that goes on and on. The listener will not want this love-fest to end.

Speakers Corner Records has done its customary superlative job in re-mastering The Heat Is On to 180-gram vinyl. The layered instrumentation is thick, but not overly dense. Ron Isley’s distinctive higher-register tonality is dulcet and elastic. The occasional hard-edged guitar tones fit into the mix evenly. Hi-gloss gatefold packaging, protective sleeves and a pressing without hisses and pops makes this vinyl mandatory for any soul collection.

Side One:
Fight The Power (Part 1 & 2)
The Heat Is On Part 1 & 2)
Hope You Feel Better Love (Part 1 & 2)

Side Two:
For The Love Of You (Part 1 & 2)
Sensuality (Part 1 & 2)
Make Me Say It Again Girl (Part 1 & 2)

—Robbie Gerson

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