Thursday, 8 September 2011

"Givin' It Back" by THE ISLEY BROTHERS (1997 Epic/Legacy ‘Rhythm & Soul’ CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...


"...If You Can't Be With The One You Love...Love The One You're With..."

Originally released on LP in September 1971 in the USA on T-Neck TNS 2008 as an album entirely made up of cover versions - "Givin' It Back" by THE ISLEY BROTHERS is one of those Soul Nuggets that seems to have slipped through way too many nets. Because I'd argue that it's an absolute friggin' masterpiece - and one you need to own. Here are my Soulful interpretations...

1. Ohio/Machine Gun [Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/Jimi Hendrix covers - segued as one track - 9:13 minutes]
2. Fire And Rain [James Taylor cover - 5:29 minutes]
3. Lay Lady Lay [Bob Dylan cover - 10:22 minutes]
4. Spill The Wine [War cover] – Side 2
5. Nothin' To Do But Today [Stephen Stills cover]
6. Cold Bologna [Bill Withers cover - also features BW on Guitar]
7. Love The One You're With [Stephen Stills cover]
Tracks 1 to 7 are the studio LP "Givin' It Back" – released September 1971 in the USA on T-Neck Records TNS-3008 (no UK release). It peaked at No. 13 on the US R&B charts.

The 1st reissue of it onto CD came as part of Epic's "Legacy Rhythm & Soul Series" in June 1997 on Epic/Legacy 487513 2 (Barcode 5099748751324) - a straightforward remaster with no bonus tracks and a 12-page booklet (41:56 minutes). The liner notes are by CLAYTON RILEY (did booklets for Legacy reissues on Gamble & Huff and Phyllis Hyman) and the mastering is by TOM RUFF at Sony. The sound quality is wonderful - power and clarity that leaps out of the speakers at you without being trebled up the nines for the sake of it. It's a superb remaster and adds hugely to your enjoyment of the music.

Containing only 7 tracks - all of which were cover versions of contemporary Rock & Soul acts of the day - it was a good idea to begin with because whenever the Isley Brothers got their chops around other people's tunes - they always seemed to bring more to them - even outdo them at times. The album opens with a stunning double-whammy - the running together of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Ohio" with Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun". Combining a truly impassioned vocal from Ronnie Isley with Ernest Isley's Prince-like lead guitar - "Ohio" (written by Neil Young) chronicles the shooting dead of 4 students at Kent University in April 1970 who were protesting peacefully against the Vietnam War. It's impossible not to be moved by it. At one point Ronnie screams, "...Tell Me Why!" against the mantra of "...Four Dead In Ohio..." sung in the background. It's a nine-minute Soul powerhouse that brings customers to the counter in Reckless every single time we play it - amazing stuff.

Next up is James Taylor's "Fire And Rain" completely reworked into a different Soul groove with a clever echoed-vocal on the lead. The pace is funky-slow to start with - then at about 2 minutes - the acoustic guitars kick in (similar to the opening of "Harvest For The World") and it brings the song to life. It still retains the languid and melancholic vibe of the original, but now extends it into a five and half minute Soul workout. It's lovely stuff and a brilliant reinterpretation. Side 1 of the original LP then ends with a cover of Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" which at 10:21 minutes length and none-too-different arrangements - sounds nice - but probably overstays its welcome a bit.

Side 2 opens with a cover of War's "Spill The Wine" which was lifted as 7" single on T-Neck 932 (its B-side was "Take Inventory" from the 1970 album "Get Into Something"). It sticks close to that great War sound, but it's also superb in its slinky delivery. It's followed with the first of two Stephen Stills covers from his debut "Stephen Stills" album (1970) - "Nothing To Do But Today" and the superlative "Love The One You're With". The first is funked-up as only the Isleys can (great track) - while their take on the sublime "Love The One You're With" arguably outshines the original (lyrics above). The curio in the seven is a Bill Withers original called "Cold Bologna" which also features the great man himself on Lead Guitar. As far as I'm aware it's not on any of Bill's studio albums (there's a version on the classic 2LP set "Live At Carnegie Hall") and is therefore an exclusive here.

Since its initial release, this original CD has become something of a pricey rarity. However, it's available cheaply in the 2008 5CD "Original Classic Albums" mini box set along with other gems like "Brother, Brother, Brother" from 1972 and "3 + 3" from 1973. The mini box set gives you 5 card repro sleeves (the other 2 albums are "The Brothers: Isley" and "Get Into Something" - both from 1970) with the liner notes downloadable from Sony's website. See separate review.

To sum up - "Givin' It Back" is a criminally forgotten release - a ridiculously good album that cries out for rediscovery. Get it whatever way you can and enjoy...

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