For a group with such a lengthy and fruitful history, The Isley Brothers’ tenure at Motown has always been seen as rather problematic. Signing to the label in 1965, by the end of the decade they had departed. While at Motown, they seemed unloved, underused; a talent squandered.
As a result, popular histories of the band dismiss the years with Berry Gordy as some inappropriate stop-gap between the glory of their earlier post-doo wop experiments (Shout, Twist and Shout) and the later, super-cool agit-funk of their T-Neck years (Fight the Power, Summer Breeze). Well, as with all of these long-standing myths, a lot of it is false, but then some of it is very true.
Being established as artists, and very much their own men, meant that Rudolph, Ronald and O’Kelly Isley were not cheerily going to visit the charm school and perform all the ditzy promotional routines that Motown expected of its roster. What they were happy to do was work, and record some of the best material that writers Holland-Dozier-Holland had to offer.
This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You) remains exhibit ‘A’ in the case for the brothers’ time in Detroit. It is one of the foremost pristine pop-soul dramas, with such drive and force that Ronald gave Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops a very decent run for his money. If you ever doubt the potency of soul music, listen to the delivery of the line, “Like a fool, I start grinning, because my heart keeps spinning and I love you”.
Behind a Painted Smile and I’ll Guess I’ll Always Love You keep the hits quotient up, but the real joy here is in lesser tracks like their version of Stop! In The Name of Love (a great deal more beef than the Supremes standard) and the Wigan Casino anthem Tell Me it’s Just Another Rumour (Baby).
Well annotated and presented, there is more than enough here to enjoy on The Motown Anthology, namely the sound of Ronald Isley’s voice and a selection of material across the two discs that, while maybe not touching the glory of their 70s sides, is far from filler. --Daryl Easlea
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