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THE ISLEY BROTHERS
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
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
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
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