Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Isley Brothers at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill

Ronald Isley (left) & Ernie Isley
Encouraged by their southern-raised parents, four young brothers, O'Kelly Isley, Jr., Rudolph Isley, Ronald Isley, and Vernon Isley began singing gospel songs in church in 1954 in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio. The Isley Brothers won a talent contest on a national television show and began a East Coast tour of churches. Then, the vocal quartet's lead vocalist, 13-year-old Vernon, died after a car struck him as he rode his bicycle in his neighborhood; devastated, the remaining trio disbanded. In 1957, the brothers decided to regroup and record secular music, with Ronald taking the lead vocals. The Isley Brothers moved to New York City and hit in 1959 with "Shout" and in 1962 with "Twist and Shout." The brothers then moved to New Jersey in 1964, during which time an as-yet-undiscovered Jimi Hendrix joined the band for a year. By the late 1960s, younger brothers Ernie Isley (guitar) and Marvin Isley (bass) began contributing to the music. Over the years, Rudolph left music to work in Christian ministry and O'Kelly and Marvin died. The two remaining Isley Brothers are Ronald and Ernie Isley. The Isley Brothers' 21st and most recent studio album is 2006's Baby Makin' Music.

Tickets were a whopping $125, but B.B. King Blues Club & Grill was packed tighter than ever. The Isley Brothers is the only artist to have had songs chart in Billboard's Hot 100 (in fact, that chart's top 50) during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, so even with no new album to promote, the Ronald and Ernie had sufficient ground to cover. The 75-minute set opened with a rocking "Fight the Power" and "That Lady," with Ronald singing in a nasal Al Green-type tenor and Ernie wailing like Carlos Santana on the guitar. Tempos then simmered for the most of the performance, highlighting mid-career "quiet storm" hits such as "Between the Sheets" and covers of "Summer Breeze" and "Hello, It's Me." The Grammy Award-winning "It's Your Thing" sparked the set again and shortened versions of "Twist and Shout" and "Shout" were rousers. Ronald Isley demonstrated that he was still a smooth, classy vocalist, but the under-utilized Ernie Isley was the band's not-so-secret weapon, rocking the house by injecting melodic guitar leads into some songs. Perhaps the 63-year-old music act is obligated to give the audience a familiar catalogue, but the concert might have been better balanced with more Ernie-rock and less Marvin ballads.