I have to admit I find the slinky bedroom entreaties that fill Eternal (Dreamworks), the latest album by the Isley Brothers, a little unsettling. Singer Ronald Isley plays the player and works the experience card, and hey, he’s 60, so I’m sure he’s got a lot of experience. Oh, it’s not fair, I suppose–I should be delighted to learn that desire doesn’t diminish with age. And the recording certainly proves that the group’s relevance hasn’t: it debuted at number three on the Billboard album chart when it was released this summer, and the R. Kelly-produced single “Contagious” has been hovering around the R & B top 20 for nearly five months. The Isley Brothers represent a virtual history of rhythm and blues, moving from the early rock ‘n’ roll of “Shout” and “Twist and Shout” to churn out slick soul hits for Motown subsidiary Tamla in the mid-60s, score a Grammy with “It’s Your Thing” in 1969, make creamy and psychedelic soul disco like “That Lady” and the politically charged “Fight the Power” in the 70s, and then usher in the slow-jam era with “Don’t Say Goodnight” in 1980. They’re certainly not the first vets to hook up with hot young producers for a comeback, but they’re among the few who don’t come off like they’re submitting themselves to lesser talents out of desperation. On Eternal, Lucy Pearl’s Raphael Saadiq and the team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are among the knob twiddlers, and singers like Chante Moore, Jill Scott, and Avant turn in cameos. But since the Isleys pretty much wrote the book on this stuff, the music never sounds anything less than Isley-esque. Now as ever, some of the material is dubious, but I don’t know that Chicago’s gloppy “If You Leave Me Now” is any worse a choice than Seals & Crofts’s “Summer Breeze,” a hit for the brothers in 1973. Ronald and dazzling guitarist Ernie are the only Isleys left in the lineup these days, but the two of them still have the Midas touch. Kenny Lattimore opens. Friday, November 9, 8 PM, Arie Crown Theater, McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Dr.; 312-791-6190 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Reisige & Taylor.