- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 25, 2001

THE ISLEY BROTHERS (featuring Ronald Isley aka Mr. Biggs)
Eternal
(Dreamworks)
First of all, a little truth in marketing: This is not an Isley Brothers album. This is a Ronald Isley solo album.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, given that he's the only original Isley from the band that debuted in the 1950s and that his voice is still a thing of beauty. But younger brother Ernie Isley, who came to the forefront in the 1970s, is a truly great guitarist, and he's woefully underused here. The Isleys have always been more than a run-of-the-mill R&B; band. Their early classics like "Shout," "This Old Heart of Mine" and "Twist and Shout" were huge favorites for black audiences and major crossover influences for formidable white bands such as the Beatles and the Doobie Brothers.
Their '70s output such as "That Lady," "Fight the Power" and the incendiary "Hope You Feel Better Love" merged silky soul with the funk power of artists like George Clinton and stormed black and white radio. In short, the Isleys have always been hit makers — and innovators. That's ultimately why "Eternal" disappoints: It's easy listening and little more. When Ernie's guitar sparkles behind his brother's singing on numbers like "Move Your Body," "Secret Lover" and "Ernie's Jam," there's magic in the grooves, but too often the record bogs down in sludge like the interminable title track and a listless cover of Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now."
This record highlights perhaps the biggest drawback of CDs: Their length encourages overindulgence. At nearly 76 minutes, "Eternal" offers a lot for the money, but it also drags on for way too long. Don't misunderstand. There are some beautiful songs here — Angela Winbush's reworking of Chic's "Warm Summer Nights," the gospel workout on Curtis Mayfield's "Think," the gorgeous "You Didn't See Me" — but there's a lot of filler, too. From the Ize Guys, we've come to expect a whole lot more. — Fran Coombs

CARLOS SANTANA/RECONSTRUCTION & MIX TRANSLATION: BILL LASWELL
Divine Light
(Sony)
GREGG ROLIE
Roots
(33rd Street)
Two fascinating new releases remind listeners of the remarkable legacy of guitarist extraordinaire Carlos Santana. "Divine Light" is an audio pastiche compiled by studio whiz Bill Laswell from two of Mr. Santana's lesser-known records, 1973's "Love Devotion Surrender" with jazz guitarist John McLaughlin, and 1974's "Illuminations," a pairing with John Coltrane's widow, Alice, an accomplished jazz pianist and harp player.
Mr. Laswell, who has gone through a number of studio permutations but is best known for his 1980s avant-garde group Material, has woven selections from the two records together into a dreamlike audio tapestry.
But those expecting fireworks from Mr. Santana's guitar are bound to be disappointed. It's no mistake that "Let's Go Into the House of the Lord," the explosive Santana-McLaughlin duet from "Love Devotion Surrender" is missing in action here. The emphasis is on the soothing, chiming sounds of "Illuminations," which has always been one of Mr. Santana's most difficult albums to absorb: Dare I say too mellow?
Still, "Divine Light" is an interesting effort and a joy to listen to in the laid-back hours.
Gregg Rolie, the first Santana keyboardist who sang the original "Evil Ways" and "Black Magic Woman," has long languished in the shadows of the band's namesake. But as his new solo album, "Roots," amply demonstrates, Mr. Rolie's songwriting, voice and keyboard playing had a great deal to do with shaping the sound of Santana we know today. When Mr. Santana broke with the other members of his band after their third album, Mr. Rolie and guitarist Neal Schon formed Journey, a powerful unit until commercial interests and vocalist Steve Perry turned it into a caricature of 1980s excess. Mr. Rolie exited at that point and has adopted a more low-key persona in the San Francisco area since then.
Now he is back with his first album in years, a collection of 12 originals that harks back remarkably to the early Santana sound. Propulsive Latin percussion and Mr. Rolie's still highly expressive voice power tracks such as "Give It to Me," "Con Todo Mi Corazon" and "Breakin' My Heart" (with Mr. Schon guesting on lead guitar). Guitarist Dave Amato's playing is a highlight song after song but really resonates when he turns to a nylon-string acoustic on the beautiful ballad "Ordinary Man" and two extended instrumentals, "Domingo" and "Orient Express."
"Roots" is my dark horse favorite of the summer and is tailor-made for driving. Or just get it if you want the sound of summer all year round. — F.C.

ELVIS COSTELLO
My Aim Is True
Spike
All This Useless Beauty
(Rhino Records)
The other Elvis, erstwhile punk rock icon Elvis Costello, never left the building in the first place.
Rhino Records, which recently acquired Mr. Costello's back catalog, is releasing revamped, expanded versions of his albums in groups of three over three-month intervals.
The label's first salvo, "My Aim Is True," "Spike" and "All This Useless Beauty," highlights Mr. Costello's solo efforts. The Attractions, his frequent collaborators, either are absent or remain in the background on each disc.
The updated records reveal a singer-songwriter with a feverish need to outgrow his power punk roots, often with stirring consequences. Each features liner notes by Mr. Costello, ever the dyspeptic wit, and full lyrics, a boon to all who have tried deciphering his coagulated warble.
A second disc accompanies each album, jammed with the expected amalgam of B-sides, live tracks and demo cuts meant exclusively for Mr. Costello's loyal flock. Dig a bit and some gems, such as a precious version of "Hidden Shame," emerge.
"My Aim Is True," Mr Costello's blazing 1977 debut, sags slightly under the weight of a fresh listen. "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" still dazzles, and "Alison's" heartbreak is as palpable as ever. But songs such as "Mystery Dance" and "Sneaky Feelings" have become more quaint than worthy of rediscovery.
By the time of the "Spike" sessions (1989), Mr. Costello's songwriting tackled political machinations along with the depths of human hope and misery.
"Spike," which produced the bittersweet "Veronica," benefits from a sonic upgrade though its inconsistencies aren't glossed over. "Last Boat Leaving" paints a wrenching portrait of family separation, but "Miss Macbeth" sounds a maladroit attempt at Beatles-style storytelling. The album also leans heavily on news headlines, witness diatribes against former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ("Tramp the Dirt Down") and capital punishment ("Let Him Dangle").
It's also somewhat indulgent, with its galaxy of guest stars (Roger McGuinn, Chrissie Hynde, Paul McCartney) and oft-maudlin arrangements ("Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," "God's Comic").
"All This Useless Beauty," Mr. Costello's last full-fledged rock album, remains an uneven pastiche of songs written primarily for other musicians. His dabbling with drum machines produces the driving "It's Time," and "Starting to Come to Me" is as exhilarating as it is clever. But a few tracks such as "Distorted Angel" teeter toward adult contemporary malaise. "Beauty's" other pleasures include the rambunctious "Shallow Grave" and the pageantry of "Little Atoms."
Through all three releases, Mr. Costello's winningly obtuse vocals never distract from his lyrics, among the most inspired of his generation. That's a fact this imperfect triplet of releases underscores with every spin.
— Christian Toto

ELI
Now the News
(Forefront Records)
Contemporary Christian recording artist Eli's latest CD is an interesting mixture of songs, original to some extent, but verging on hokey. Functioning as a platform for criticizing the media and various social ills, the CD has some interesting lyrics that have either the power to salvage or spoil a given song.
Eli has an acoustic sound and profound voice that seem strikingly similar to the music of Crash Test Dummies lead singer Brad Roberts. The cheesy style of certain tracks seems incongruent with Eli's alternative sounding voice.
The title track "Now the News," is just kind of strange. Song No. 4, "Waves of an Ocean," is an upbeat number with a sound melody, making it the most significant piece on the CD.
The song "Million Bucks" has a more mainstream, pop-ish feeling that is sharply contrasted by "Some Say," the folksy, instrumental number that follows it.
"Do What You Said" is not only a good number for the quality of the acoustic guitar accompaniment, but for the lyrics inspired by the "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet phenomenon that has recently been popular in Christian circles around America.
The CD ends on a sour note with "Better Day,, a sing-a-long-type number. Not even the lyrics, although inspiring in content, are able to rectify its corniness. — Emily Rahe


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