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In the age of the single download, Jeff Harford rediscovers the album.
Few groups can count musicians of the calibre of Jimi Hendrix among their sidemen and there is no doubting the young guitarist's 1964-65 stint with the Isleys stimulated the interest in hard-edged R&B that would set them apart from many of their contemporaries.
In 1973, when the time came to cement into place the transition from three-piece vocal group with backing musicians to fully self-contained band, it was Hendrix-influenced guitarist and younger brother Ernie, bass-player sibling Marvin and keyboardist brother-in-law Chris Jasper who joined Ronald, Rudolph and O'Kelly Isley jun in the new line-up.
The Isleys' 11th full-length release, and first as an equal billing six-piece, was titled 3 + 3, acknowledging the extended brotherhood.
The album embraces this inclusive spirit by taking on all manner of challenges and succeeding, most notably in the form of unlikely covers: Doobie Brother's hit Listen To The Music is lifted by strutting funk, James Taylor's Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight translates as a smooth but saccharine-free soul ballad, and Seals and Croft's feather-light Summer Breeze is given a propulsive, harmony-rich rock/soul makeover that provides a platform from which Ernie launches one of his more sublime solos.
The finest cut is Top 10 single That Lady (Parts 1 & 2), itself a reworked version of a song the Isleys released in 1964. A proto-disco classic, it trucks along on Latin-inspired rhythms and Ronald's falsetto lead, again shining a spotlight on Ernie's guitar work, which this time channels Carlos Santana.
This new lease on life generated a series of consistently fine albums that petered out only at the turn of the decade.