Isley Brothers ‘Groove With You… Live!’ (Real Gone Music/Sony) 4/5

88875132941_JK001_PS_01_01_01.inddSomething of an archival find from a live in the studio series of sessions before an audience that dates from October 1980. Initially, CBS were reluctant to promote this project since the record company wanted something brand new, whereas the band were keen on reworking some of their classic 1970s sides with newer material. Not surprisingly, the company won out and the project was shelved until now. [Although there was a vinyl release on Record Store Day November 2015 via Legacy]
Viewed from the prism of thirty-five plus years distance, this live studio recording contains music that is faithful to the approach of the Isley Brothers in actual live performance, yet with the benefit of studio quality sound. As such it is a wholly accurate representation of how the group sounded at the time and with the full family band member, augmented by some of the regular tour band including a beefed up percussion section.
A major highlight is the extended guitar solo on the anthemic, ‘Who’s that lady?’, and the funkified Jimi Hendrix feel makes for a stunning alternative to the original, while the trademark mellifluous vocals are still there in abundance. The more dance-oriented side to the Isley Brothers is present on the hit, ‘It’s a disco night (rock don’t stop)’ and on the grittier funk grooves of, ‘Take me to the next phase’, with its plucked bass and twangy-edged rhythm guitar riffs

A medley of the band’s hits attests to their mastery of the ballad repertoire and includes, ‘Hello it’s me/For the love of you and ‘Footsteps in the dark’. Of note here, is the upping of tempo part-way through that adds a nice touch that one would not find on the originals. Ronald Isley has long been the voice of the brothers and on, ‘Here we go again’, stretches out on the instrumental parts with some fine ad-libbing. Likewise, the epic ballad, ‘Don’t say goodnight (It’s time for love)’ is treated to a lovely reading from Ronald Isley with sensitive accompaniment, and this as strong as the original studio version.

One minor quibble with the otherwise fine presentation. The back cover titles are near impossible to read because of the darkness of the red colour. Otherwise, lengthy sleeve notes provide a fitting historical context to one of soul music’s longest and greatest ever family formations.

Tim Stenhouse