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Concert Reviews:
Isley Brothers twist and "Shout" at Sound Board

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Monday, January 21, 2019

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DETROIT -- After 60 years, the Isley Brothers certainly have something to "Shout" about -- and did just that on Sunday night, Jan. 20, at Sound Board in the Motor City Casino.

The surviving siblings -- singer Ronald Isley, 77, and guitarist Ernie Isley 66 -- showed they could still twist as well as shout over the course of an hour and 40-minute show that commemorated the six decades since that iconic single. With a seven-piece augmented by three dancers and three back-up singers (including Ronald's wife Kandy Johnson), the music was tight and the flow was smooth and casual. Ronald -- sporting an embroidered three-piece red suit, no shirt, an occasional fedora and shades and brandishing a walking stick -- steered the concert through all or part of 21 songs, ranging from the Isley's own classics to covers that provided context about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted group's place in pop music, and particularly R&B, history.

No moment was more emotional, however, than his dedication to the late Aretha Franklin before a pairing of "Jesus Loves Me" and "For the Love of You." Shedding tears, the elder Isley -- who sang at Franklin's funeral last August -- told the Sound Board crowd about meeting Franklin in 1959. "I thought she was the best singer I ever heard in my life," Isley said. "She was my best friend in show business from that day in 1959 all the way up to 2018." Isley recalled how he and Franklin "used to stay up all night and talk about Sam Cooke," and he credited Franklin with turning him on to Whitney Houston, to whom he also dedicated the extended version of "Jesus Loves Me."

Ronald made a cursory mention of the Isley's brief tenure at Motown during the mid-60s, singing a bit of the 1966 hit "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)" and also paid tribute to fellow R&B stalwarts Teddy Pendergrass and Luther Vandross -- curiously segueing into a bit of Lionel Richie's "Hello" in a nod to the latter. Frankie Beverly got a nod with a rendition of Maze's "Joy and Pain," while Prince was given his due with the Isley's stylized version of Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breeze."

The Isleys also offered their takes on Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" and Todd Rundgren's "Hello, It's Me" amidst a selection of the group's own favorites. "Fight the Power," "That Lady" and "Between the Sheets" started the night with a blast of enduring hits. A woman in the crowd provided a Chaka Khan verse during "Smooth Sailin' Tonight" ("You're gonna get a break tonight," Ronald predicted from the stage), with five more women were ushered on stage to dance with the Isleys during "It's Your Thing" and "Twist and Shout."

Ernie Isley, meanwhile, made the most of a few spotlight moments, exercising his searing signature guitar tone during "That Lady," "Summer Breeze" and particularly on the 1977 album track "Voyage to Atlantis."

The night ended, appropriately, "all the way back" with "Shout" -- bluesier than the original rave-up, and with snippets of James Brown's "Doing It to Death" and Elmore James' "Shake Your Money Maker" woven into the performance. There won't be another 60 years ahead for the Isleys, but on Sunday the brothers showed again that they've created a body of work that will still be celebrated even beyond that

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