Ron Isley: No More
Bittersweet video, smooth single from Isley frontman sets the pace for long-awaited solo project
Ron Isley knows about a hard knock life. After paying his dues in prison for a whopping three years due to tax evasion, the lead singer of the legendary Isley Brothers is back on his grind on his swiftly-designed solo project. Its the first solo entry for the soul crooner, even if his last few albums with the Isley earned him co-headlining status. But this time, he’s on his own. Maybe he took a cue from his “Gotta Go Solo” 2004 duet with Patti LaBelle.
One thing’s for certain: the Mr. Biggs character, designed originally by R. Kelly, may be on hiatus for now. Titling the new album Mr. I is a perfect move as it proves an insurmountable maturity on the 69-year old singer’s part as he shuns away from the pimp status of his ’90’s outputs.
The lead single, “No More,” for Mr. I, is not as attractive or lucrative as the ’70’s ballads of the Isleys’ collection. There’s not much instrumentation here, except for a consistent acoustic guitar, tranquil background harmonies and a soft pop drum programmed-patches that vaguely sound like Lionel Richie’s “I Call It Love.” While it’s a distant cry from the Isley’s majestic Quiet Storm parade of hits, like Footsteps In the Dark” or “Between the Sheets,” it’s still a sweet return to the studio, overall, even if it oftentimes feels a bit haphazard in its emptiness. But maybe the gently pop-seasoned offering – produced by Fuego and Max Gousse – is what will work in favor for Isley. It rubs off some of the jail residue and it disarms the “bump and grind” legend. It’s probably just as important to come out the bag with something totally different from the Isley Brothers’ hits, in order to avoid the typical castration from critics who generally loathe former band leaders when going solo.
While the single leaves a few fans disappointed, the music video makes up for lost time. Ron Isley enters the studio, dressed in his typical GQ guise, and sings before the mic. Gorgeous wood panels and digitally-enhanced bright lights gives the visuals a warm, cozy vibe. And the offering displays still-pictures of classic soul singers like Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, Barry White, the Isleys and Patti LaBelle that allows the song to take on new meaning. He sings of that powerful truth about soul singers: “Like a timeless record, you will never get old.” As the verse jumps in, the nostalgic appeal to the song, alongside the inserted photographs, feels like a sweet memoriam of a genre’s final moments (“So I never wanna let you go/They don’t make ’em like you no more”).
J MATTHEW COBB