News Column

Ronald Isley's new album shows 'where music is supposed to be'

July 14, 2013

YellowBrix

July 14--Music great Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers knows his last album, 2010's "Mr. I," wasn't Ronald Isley at his tip-top best, unlike his new project, "This Song is For You."

"Mr. I" was a respectable enough project, but proved dismissible.

It was Isley's first project after he was released from prison in 2010 for a tax evasion conviction in 2006, and he admits he recorded it under pressure.

"It was rushed," he says. "I didn't have the time to really sit down and get it right. I had deadlines. I was trying to get some music out there right away, and I had certain shows I wanted to do and I wanted to do this and do that."

Isley, 72, who lives in Town and Country with his wife and son, is more than making up for "Mr. I" with his new album, "This Song Is For You," which will be released Tuesday via eOne Music/Notifi Records.

Notifi Records head Ira DeWitt, who has overseen albums from Johnny Gill and Ginuwine, executive produced the project. Isley co-owns the studio with DeWitt, and eight of the songs on "This Song Is For You" were recorded at Notifi in Brentwood.

Isley says his wants to educate younger audiences with "This Song Is For You."

"I'm trying to show the young people where music is supposed to be, and at the same time show them what I know," he says.

He also wants listeners to know an album can be listened to from beginning to end; it does not just have to be a collection of a couple of singles.

What's remarkable about "This Song Is For You" is how current it sounds. Some long-established musicians, such as Rod Stewart, settle in a mode of releasing standards albums. Even Isley did that with his Burt Bacharach collaboration "Here I Am" in 2000.

But "This Song Is For You" feels fresh and modern and could have been released by an artist half his age.

Radio personality Tammie Holland, co-host of Majic 100.3's "Tony Scott Show with Tammie Holland," is impressed by Isley's longevity and talent.

"You have to think about it -- he's been making music my whole life and your whole life and it has always been the bomb," she says. "He's so gifted. How do you do that at 72 and still have sex appeal and the ability to demand a new audience?

"There are new people who will discover Ronald Isley with this album. My daughter, Meadow, who is 7, is now listening to Ronald Isley with me."

DeWitt says Isley drew younger singers Trey Songz and Kem to record on his new album because "a lot of artists new and old are inspired by Isley. They're inspired by that classic Isleys sound and what he contributed. They were both really excited to work with him."

The lead single from the new album is the silky "Dinner and a Movie," a hit on urban adult contemporary radio charts. "That song to me is like a movie, from the beginning when we first met, and it goes all the way to the end," Isley says. "It tells a certain kind of story of meeting a girl."

The album also includes "Lay You Down" featuring Songz and "My Favorite Thing" featuring Kem.

Isley and Kem began talking about recording a song together a year and a half ago, but both agreed it had to be the right song. "It had to be the perfect thing for us," Isley says. "We would talk every month and he came up with a song nine months later. He's so particular, just like Luther Vandross. He wants everything to be just right."

The Songz collaboration came about through Troy Taylor, who produced the majority of "This Song Is for You" and Isley's 2006 single "Just Came Here to Chill." Taylor, who put Songz on the map, used tell Isley about Songz.

"He was talking about how much he believed in this kid," Isley says. "He brought him to meet me. (Songz) admired me and what I was doing and said one day he wanted us to do a song together, that he would write something for me. I was tickled by that."

Later, Songz hit it big with songs that had strong sexual content like "Neighbors Know My Name," about a couple's adventures in the bedroom. "I wasn't going to do anything like that," Isley laughs. "I needed him to write something I could do."

"This Song Is For You" is the latest in a career that spans more than 50 years.

The group the Isley Brothers, which has included at different times brothers Ronald Isley, Ernie, O'Kelly, Rudolph, Vernon and Marvin, and cousin Chris Jasper, had its first big hit with the enduring "Shout" in 1959.

Other classics followed, including "Twist & Shout," "It's Your Thing," "Summer Breeze," "Fight the Power," "Footsteps in the Dark," "Voyage to Atlantis" and "For the Love of You."

A steamier era for the Isley Brothers yielded the 1983 album "Between the Sheets" with the title track and "Choosey Lover." Later in the '80s, the group recorded with Angela Winbush, the singer-producer who would later become Isley's wife. (The couple divorced a decade ago.)

In 1992, the Isley Brothers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Isley was introduced to a new generation when he took on the original gangster character Mr. Biggs on R. Kelly's 1995 hit song "Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)." He and Kelly plan to work together again on Isley's next project.

The popularity of Mr. Biggs led to the commercial rebirth "Mission to Please" in 1996. Isley then worked with other younger artists, including Babyface, Raphael Saadiq, Keith Sweat and Chante Moore. Isley had also gained the favor of rappers who sampled his music. Most notable was Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day" and Notorious B.I.G.'s "Big Poppa."

"I'm a fan of Ice Cube's, but my favorite was Biggie using 'Between the Sheets,'" Isley says. "He was talented and I followed his career up until his death. We were supposed to do something together."

In a twist, Isley samples the Isley Brothers' "Between the Sheets" on the song "Another Night" on "This Song Is For You."

Isley, slated to tour this year with his brother Ernie Isley, Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly and Kem, believes the new album will become just as much a classic as some of his past works.

"In doing any record, it's about how much fun it brings to you and the feeling you get while you are listening back to it. I listened to this album over and over again trying to find something wrong. But if I found anything wrong, it wouldn't be there."

Still, Isley says "This Song Is For You" can never compete with his past in one crucial way.

"I'm thinking about all the records we made back then. No record will bring back the feeling I had with all my brothers."

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(c)2013 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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