Review #464: 3+3, The Isley Brothers

Karla Clifton
3 min readNov 15, 2023

#464: 3+3, The Isley Brothers

RS and Wikipedia says that the Isley Brothers are quiet storm, so I was mentally prepared for a slow burn album. (Side note: I recently saw Eagles QB Jalen Hurts’ playlist is chock full of quiet storm, including Anita Baker and the Isley Brothers. Neat!) But this record isn’t a slow burn so much as it is a controlled house fire.

The Isley Brothers really were brothers! They had already released a ton of huge hits before 3+3’s release in 1973, including “Shout” and “It’s Your Thing” — the latter of which was written to stick it to Berry Gordy. But even before that, they were a gospel group, having begun when they were just children. And they were touched by tragedy early on, when lead singer Vernon was struck by a car and killed at age 13.

They broke up, then regrouped: Ronald, O’Kelly, and Rudolph Isley performed as a trio. When this record was released, they finally invited their two younger brothers Ernie and Marvin, to officially join the band, along with their brother-in-law Chris Jasper. Hence the title.

When I saw the album cover, I was baffled by Featuring That Lady. Who’s ‘That Lady’? I wondered, assuming that she was a long forgotten soul singer. I had a good laugh at myself when I realized that “That Lady, Pts. 1 & 2” was their opening song, and one that I knew well — it was in Anchorman, after all! Interestingly enough, it was actually a reworked version of a song they already released, inspired by some time they spent playing with Jimi Hendrix. And you can hear Ernie Isley giving his best warm jet guitar Jimi impression.

A Jimi Hendrix impression on a quiet storm album? Yeah, actually, this album isn’t so quiet at all. Sure, “Summer Breeze, Pts. 1 & 2” has a light and airy falsetto and lovely plucked guitar part, but there’s still a face-melting solo at the end. The quietest moment is the introspective, piano-led “The Highways Of My Life.” Otherwise, they’re funky as hell, even when they’re singing melancholy breakup ballads: see the keyboard solo on “What It Comes Down To” and the organ gospel intro on “You Walk Your Way.”

While all the Isleys sing, Ronald sings lead, and with good reason: he’s a mix of soulful attitude and rock and roll emphasis. “If You Were There,” an ode to fidelity, takes his voice from smooth to meaty. Their take on James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” is funky and desperate, and shows of Ronald’s pipes. In fact, all their covers are standouts: “Sunshine (Go Away Today)” is a cover of country artist Jonathon Edwards, with none of the twang but all of the anti-Vietnam War sensibilities. (He can’t even run his own life/ I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine!) And their take on the Doobie Brothers’ “Listen To The Music” is offbeat and even more complex than the Doobie’s version.

Technically the Isley Brothers are still a band, but they’re down to Ronald and Ernie now. Kelly Isley passed away in 1986, and three years later, Rudolph left the group to pursue a career in the church — but he passed away about a month ago. The Isleys have said that they decided to carry on making music in order to honor their brother Vernon. I think they succeeded.

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