THE ISLEY BROTHERS; Masterpiece/Smooth Sailin’ (Robinsongs)

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Robinsongs’ latest soul reissue pairs two often overlooked albums from the mighty Isley Brothers’ canon – 1985’s ‘Masterpiece’ and ‘Smooth Sailin” from ’87. Both originally appeared on Warner Bros and both sets catch the family group in periods of transition. ‘Masterpiece’ , you see, was the Isleys’ first long player for a new label and the first to see them reverting to their original three man line up (Isley-Jasper-Isley had just split, you’ll remember) while ‘Smooth Sailn” was their first recording after the death of O’Kelly Isley, leaving just Ronald and Rudolph to carry the family brand.

For ‘Masterpiece’ the Isleys looked to emulate the success they’d enjoyed a couple of years earlier with the lush, romantic ‘Between The Sheets’ so they filled the album with similarly romantic, “Quiet Storm’ aimed songs and, being in transition , they opted to record more covers than was the norm for their albums. Amongst those covers are versions of Phil Collin’s ‘If Leaving Me Is Easy’ and Charlie Rich’s ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’ but the real highlights are covers of Skip Scarborough’s ‘My Best Was Good Enough’ and ‘Stevie Wonder’s ‘Stay Gold’. That song had first featured in the Francis Ford Coppola movie ‘The Outsiders’ and the Isley’s version is one of their finest ballad moments, though surprisingly, outside of hard core fans, it’s hardly known.

Most of the songs on ‘Smooth Sailin’ (seven out of the eight) came from the pen of Angela Winbush, one half of Rene and Angela. At the time Ms Winbush was in a romantic liaison with Ron Isley (they later married) and the best of her bunch is the LP’s title track. Warner Bros execs clearly felt the same way ‘cos they made the song the lead single and it “sailed” into the top 3 of the US R&B charts. ‘Somebody I Used To Know’ is another ballad worth investigating.

For collectors this “twofer” comes complete with a number of bonus cuts (mainly the single edits of the hits) while sleeve notes come courtesy of SJF’s own Charles Waring; they’re concise and authoritative… as you’d expect.

Finally, if anyone doubts the contention made by a famous soul commentator that Ronnie Isley possesses “the voice of an angel”, then grab a listen to almost anything here (I’d recommend ‘Stay Gold’ ) and you’ll be forever convinced!

(BB) 4/5