Front Page

CD Shop

New Releases

Forthcoming Releases

The latest printed issue

Back Issues

Serious Soul Chart

Quality Time Cream Cuts

Album of the Month

CD Reviews

Editorial Columns


Readers' Favourites



Soul Express Album Review

Buy this album from our CD Shop

I'll Be Home For Christmas
(US Def Soul, 2007)

1) Silent Night 2) What Can I Buy You 3) Isley's Christmas Melody: Noel / What Child Is This / Joy To The World 4) I'm In Love 5) The Christmas Song 6) White Christmas 7) Winter Wonderland 8) Santa Claus Is Coming To Town 9) I'll Be Home For Christmas 10) Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

I’m not really a Christmas person. Usually I expect three spirits to appear, as they do, every Christmas Eve but you know how it is. The world is a lot busier, more complex than when I was a child in the age of the workhouse, white Christmases and the hit soul 7” single. Some people like me cannot be changed. The spirits no longer visit, but we videoconference instead.

The prospect, then, of my approaching a festive album does not bode too well! However, when it is the very first set of such festive choonage from the Isley Brothers, then even I sit up and take a listen. I have to say that I was expecting little if nothing of note, but am instead very nicely surprised. Overseen by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” offers us a plethora of musical styles and delights from the more traditional orchestrated affair of the typical Christmas tune, to a purely acoustic scenario, then onto a blisteringly soulful – yet seasonal – approach. Vocally, Ronald Isley is on the top of his game. Sounding as slick as he did back in the 60s and 70s, he approaches these old chestnuts with a fresh ear and manages to Isley-fy said cherished Christmas numbers with a mixture of off-the-cuff ad-libbing and asides which he used to great and stunning effect on his wonderful collaboration with Burt Bacharach.

There are two new songs on here that I would firstly draw your attention to. “I’m In Love” has to be mentioned first. It is a superb song with VERY tenuous links to the festive season. The only link here is a throwaway line that Ron believes in Santa Claus saving two lovers lost. That’s it. Very astute. I think that I am dissuaded from Christmas albums as they have such a limited time span for spinning. This song can be enjoyed all year round. The fact that it rates as one of the best songs they have given us this side of the Millennium is another point of note.

Indeed, the dreadful and unnecessary Mr. Biggs persona appears – for this CD at least – to have been buried. Hopefully for good. The second song is a direct throwback to their 70s material and is very strong indeed. Definitely more seasonally aimed, “What Can I Buy You” will appeal to those who, like me, find Christmas songs which are NOT Slade or Wizzard not at all attractive. Brother Ernie also gets to flex his guitar and along with the backing harmonies akin to “You’re Beside Me” then the guys are on to a winner.

I am not religious either, but appreciate a good carol. Now, there is a good carol and there is a KILLER carol. What else should be included in this category than “Silent Night”? This song is almost perverse. Imagine this hallowed, cherished, carol given the full Isley Slow Jam treatment a la their mid 70s Chris Jasper era then you will see what I mean. The result is truly, truly spine-tingling. If only the brothers would make mainstream music in this fashion again. This is the sound of the Isley Brothers, updated and tweaked for this digital age but still immediately recognisable and certainly not anachronistic. It is with much amusement – neigh shock – that I listen properly to the evergreen “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”. Have you actually listened to this song properly?! We are talking about a sinister character straight out of the pages of Orwell’s 1984 here. He not only knows when you’re naughty but also when you’re nice – even, for pity’s sake, when you are asleep or knows when you are awake. Then here comes the threat – be good for goodness sake. This man also comes down your chimney, even if you have central heating or Economy 7, without setting off any burglar alarms, upsetting the poodle and then has the audacity to bereft you of a mince pie and a glass of Sherry. This is surely the agent of the galloping Owellian Big Brother state?!

If you are not rattled by this vision, and heartily prepare a roaring fire in your hearth to repel this omni sentient overlord then you may well revel in the more traditional songs on here. Ron is lapping this chance to do this. He loves every minute of it. The simple acoustic “The Christmas Song” reminds us – not that we need it – of this man’s voluminous talent. The swinging jazz of “Winter Wonderland” brings a smile to my otherwise miserable face, as does the lush orchestration of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.

I have to say that, all my preconceptions aside; this CD really does fire on all cylinders. It is probably one of the best soulful Holiday albums you could wish to buy, period, and the styles and flavours on here are balanced by the vocal workings of a real professional. And there is nothing for pleasurable than listening to a real professional having real fun and relishing it. Jam and Lewis have done a sterling job here – please may they replicate this when the guys come to do another album.
- Barry Towler

Other CD Reviews
Albums of the Month in 2007
Albums of the Month in 2006
Albums of the Month in 2005
Albums of the Month in 2004
Albums of the Month in 2003
Albums of the Month in 2002
Albums of the Month in 2001
Albums of the Month in 2000
Albums of the Month in 1999
Albums of the Month in 1998
Albums of the Month in 1997

Other CD reviews
Back to our home page