The Isley Brothers

Sixty-two-year-old Ronald Isley is nearing the end of an unexpectedly busy year: a handsome reissue of the Isley Brothers' 1973 LP 3+3; Body Kiss, a slyly persuasive new Isleys disc featuring Ronald and guitarist Ernie (and songwriting from R. Kelly); and a brand-new collaborative CD from Isley and composer/arranger/producer Burt Bacharach titled Here I Am. That last item's perhaps the most unexpected of all, since the gruffly, smooth-talking Isley is an unusual candidate for the hammy pop-standard trend that's been gaining steam all year (see recent efforts by Rod Stewart, Elvis Costello, even Cyndi Lauper) and of which Here I Am will certainly be marketed as a part; despite his silken, nearly Al Green-grade delivery, there's a tension to Isley's singing that rubs against the buttoned-down allure of something like "The Way You Look Tonight"--it's why the man had to invent his anti-heroic alter ego Mr. Biggs. Of course, that muted duplicity is perfect for singing music by Bacharach, whose canon is a practical songbook of lushly orchestrated hidden depths. On Here I Am, "A House Is Not a Home" is the big-ticket moment, Isley the veteran loverman milking it for all its multiple-divorcé regret, but a subtly swinging "The Look of Love" is the revelation: I've got my doubts that the owner of those talkative eyes is even aware of Mr. Biggs' feelings.
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Mikael Wood

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