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POP MUSIC REVIEW

A Playful Encounter With the Isley Brothers

May 06, 1997|CHEO HODARI COKER

Some call Ronald Isley the gangster of love, and the Isley Brothers' lead singer lived up to the nickname on Sunday as he strolled onto the Greek Theatre stage to the theme from "The Godfather," wearing a red pinstripe suit and fedora, carrying a cane and smiling as if he owned the place. Three dancers were at his side like bodyguards.

Isley, backed by a nine-piece band, including his wife Angela Winbush singing backup and his brother Ernie on guitar, soon displayed the agile falsetto and seductive playfulness that have made him an irresistible singer and a crowd favorite for more than 40 years. It didn't matter whether it was "Between the Sheets," "Footsteps in the Dark" or even a sultry rendition of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"--any note leaving Isley's mouth had something special to offer, giving the music a wisdom and a feeling that's offered by a select few, including James Brown and Stevie Wonder.

The Isley Brothers' show had a sexual ambience, but when they went back to their gospel roots with 1959's "Shout," they elevated the crowd to a different level. The cathouse became a church tent, and suddenly it was about love on a higher plane, one that breaks through all boundaries. Now that's gangster.

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