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Soul Express CD Review


Mr. I

US Def Soul, 2010
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Take It How You Want It / No More / If I Lose My Woman / Put Your Money On Me (feat. T.I) / Supposed To Do / Dance For Me / What I Miss The Most / I Need You / You’ve Got A Friend (feat. Aretha Franklin) / You Had Me At Hello

Ronald Isley is back and with a solo collection that far exceeded my – admittedly very poor and low – expectations. Having endured somewhat of a renaissance since the mid 1990s thanks to a collaboration with R Kelly, then Keith Sweat and a number of rappers – none of whom I could mention or bother recalling, borne was the dreadfully base and moronic R&B persona ‘Mr. Biggs’. Heaven help us, I thought, and hoped it wouldn’t last. Yet it did, right up through the new millennium with hit albums on Dreamworks, and now we have this set for Def Jam’s soul imprint, “Def Soul”.

Track one, I warn you, pays homage to that dreadfully shallow persona BUT don’t let the aforementioned put you off of this CD. A throwaway cut for young kids with their slacks dangling around their ankles is “Take It How You Want It”, and that’s fine. At least the adult, mature listener gets more than enough of the CD to call their own.

No More” is the first port of call and is a sublime slice of crossover mature soul and even borders into West Coast AOR or even Country with the harmonies. Again, listen up and don’t shun this. It’s a perfect song for blaring out from the car on a warm, sunny day down by the sea. Ronald sounds very at home on this material, and not since his sublime work with Burt Bacharach back in 2003 has he had such vigour, depth and verve.

C “Tricky” Stewart is a name you may recall from the 90s scene, and his addition, “If I Lose My Woman”, is not to be balked at either, complete with electric guitar in the style of Ernie Isley (who’s not at all to be seen or heard on this project) and a haunting synth backdrop.

A name that warmed me in the 1990s was Jon Nettlesby, who along with Terry Coffey, produced such timeless gems for Keith Washington, Jody Watley and Truth, Inc. A surprising track for Jon is “Put Your Money On Me” which is a small nod to today’s youthful R&B but a LOT better. Rapper T.I. is also clear and concise and sounds to me like Bow-Legged Lou out of Full Force. As such this is not the cornerstone track, but still not bad!

The KILLER cut for me is the sexy, sublime midtempo melter, “Dance For Me” which comes from the pen of Jon Nettlesby and the one and only Cliff Branch! The ballad “What I Miss The Most” complete with acoustic guitar and haunting lilts is far superior to the homeboy efforts here and Mr. Nettlesby and G. Curtis, Snr is responsible for this.

An interesting track is “I Need You”. This is a great, great song yet is relies VERY heavily on the melody of Stanley Clarke / Howard Hewett’s “Fantasy Love” from 1993’s “East River Drive” album. In fact, I am straining all the time to hear if the original song and bassline are in the background!

Fans of Aretha Franklin will love the cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend, and Paul Riser’s unmistakeable strings sound great too. Jon Nettlesby and Cliff Branch also tail the CD with the downtempo “You Had Me At Hell”. Not Jon’s finest effort, compared to Keith Washington in the 1990s, but still nice.

So, unlike recent sets, Ron Isley seems to be, on the whole, shrugging off his ridiculous Gangsta persona. Hopefully by the next set it’ll be buried and forgotten completely.
-Barry Towler

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