Short Cuts

The Clash, The Isley Brothers

The Clash
From Here to Eternity: The Clash Live
(Epic)

The Clash was as unlikely a band of influences and successes as were the Beatles just 15 years before them, two quartets of scruffy iconoclasts who changed the music world forever. While the Sex Pistols, immediate contemporaries of the Clash, were driven by a desire to completely tear down the political and musical systems, the Clash seemed more interested in a constructive airing of the problems at hand. Even though there was a discernible and rough-hewn cynicism to the Clash's politics, the band members were revolutionaries, not anarchists.

Musically the Clash was influenced by American country and funk and Jamaican reggae and found a way to brew it all together with punkish verve and volume. The band's early work found no real foothold in America except for a cultish few who, at some level, understood the new British invasion. It wasn't until 1979's seminal London Calling that the Clash began earning respect and moving units, a situation that was heightened a year later by the release of the triple album Sandinista!

In true revolutionary spirit, the Clash's end came with its greatest success. The 1982 pop-punk favorite Combat Rockspawned a couple of hit singles ("Should I Stay or Should I Go" and the ubiquitous "Rock the Casbah"), and with very little further fanfare, the members of the Clash went their separate ways and never regrouped. Mick Jones cofounded Big Audio Dynamite; Joe Strummer scored films and recorded sporadically; and Paul Simonon kicked around, eventually winding up in Havana 3 A.M. with Gary Myrick.

One thing that the Clash did not do before going less than gentle into that good night was to release a live album. Nearly a quarter-century after its humble debut, the Clash has reassembled one last time to oversee the assemblage of From Here to Eternity: The Clash Live, a collection of live Clash moments culled from recently unearthed archives. In keeping with the band's philosophy of doing things completely differently, From Here to Eternity is a sampling of a number of disparate gigs spanning 1978 to 1982, recorded in Boston, New York, and London.

Wisely shying away from populist hits like "Rock the Casbah," the Clash has constructed the perfect live album -- perfect for the Clash, at any rate. With blazing renditions of "What's My Name," "Clash City Rockers," "Guns of Brixton," and "I Fought the Law," plus necessities like "Train in Vain" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go," the Clash has stitched together technically dissimilar club and arena performances and mixed them seamlessly into the glorious From Here to Eternity to deliver the concert album that wasn't possible 15 years ago but is absolutely essential today. -- Brian Baker


The Isley Brothers
It's Your Thing: The Story of the Isley Brothers
(Sony Legacy)

Like some Pentagon secret weapon, the Isley Brothers have somehow enjoyed a successful 40-year career while barely registering a bleep on the pop culture radar. Now, a three-CD retrospective convincingly argues that the Isleys are one of the most influential pop acts ever. It's Your Thing: The Story of the Isley Brothers traces the band's evolution from doo-wop crooners to hard-rocking funksters, not to mention the group's unfortunate descent into lusty R&B balladry. Despite its broad musical scope, It's Your Thing is seldom disorienting. In fact, the music featured here is so evocative, it's like watching a television rockumentary without the visuals. The intertwined sense of triumph, sadness, and destiny is that palpable.

Hailing from Cincinnati, the Isleys began their career in the early '50s as a gospel quartet. In 1959 the brothers composed and popularized the R&B anthem "Shout" before going on to record "Twist and Shout," a tune that would later become one of the Beatles' first hits. In 1965 they signed with the preeminent R&B label, Motown. A year earlier the Isleys had recruited a talented young guitarist named Jimmy James (a.k.a. Jimi Hendrix). It's Your Thing features two tracks with Hendrix: "Testify" and the revelatory "Move Over and Let Me Dance." During his brief tenure with the group, Hendrix taught Ernie Isley some of his tricks. Those impromptu lessons would prove instrumental to the success of the group in the '70s.

Predictably It's Your Thing begins with the Isleys early hits of the '50s and '60s, including the gospel-inflected "Shout" and the intense R&B workout, "Twist and Shout." But these familiar tracks are upstaged by curious tunes like "Who's That Lady," a tune the group recorded in 1964 and later reinterpreted in 1973. Both versions are included here, but where the 1973 rendition sounds like a funky acid trip, the bossa nova-styled interpretation from 1964 veritably drips with sexual allure.

The group's '70s funk tracks have weathered well. Tracks like "Take Me to the Next Phase," "The Pride," and "Fight the Power" reveal a strong political ideology. (Hip-hop fans will note that Public Enemy lifted the "fight the power" theme for their classic rap song of the same name.) Moreover, It's Your Thing begs a critical reassessment of Ernie Isley. Seldom mentioned among the guitar heroes of the '70s, Ernie's neopsychedelic solos on tracks like "Voyage to Atlantis," "That Lady," and "Summer Breeze" are as heroic as any you'll hear.

Unfortunately disc three is dragged down by smarmy funk ballads that would make Chef on South Park recoil in horror. Thankfully, these lounge lizard anthems don't sabotage the entire package. In all, It's Your Thing is a great primer for funk and pop fans alike. -- Bruce Britt

 
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