Bacharach Meets Isley

Two music legends come together to rearrange and rerecord the songs of one of the legends. It was nothing short of, well, legendary. If you don't believe it you need look no further than the album's liner notes. In them, we are told that when Burt Bacharach met Ronald Isley at (ahem) legendary Capitol Records studios A and B to begin recording, it was widely anticipated by industry insiders. "Music visionary" and DreamWorks Records exec John McClain was there. A roomful of 40 of the nation's greatest session musicians were there. Hell, even two-time Oscar-winner Denzel Washington came down to bear witness to what certainly proved to be a cultural event for the ages -- the new millennium's unpublicized Woodstock.

In fact, it may have even started out to live up to such lofty descriptions. This group of geniuses -- of both the self-proclaimed (McClain and all the other superhuman execs involved in bringing the two together) and publicly proclaimed (Bacharach/Isley) variety -- recorded a whopping five songs in the first day, which, we are told, is an incredible feat by today's standards. Problem is that Here I Am stretches on for eight more tracks -- each approaching four and a half minutes in length.

What happened that first day was probably beautiful. Denzel may have even wept. What's wrong with the album is that Bacharach assumes that Isley sings underwater. Every song is slowed down and made longer than its original -- it could almost pass for Bacharach Jams Screw.

At times it works. "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" is impressive -- the arrangement makes it sound like a completely different song with a familiar chorus. These raindrops have sex -- something that's missing from too much of this album.

The same couldn't be said for R. Kelly, the Pied Piper of R&B, and a guy who knows Isley's range and ability a bit better than Bacharach does. Kelly's contributions on the Isley Brothers' 2001 release Eternal and his production of this year's "Body Kiss" (both of which Bacharach admits he's never heard) turn Isley loose on many avenues -- not just Boring Boulevard. And while it may have struck you funny when the sixtysomething Isley seductively wrapped his trademark falsetto around lines like "Pop the Cristal / We gonna be a while," as Isley did with his brothers on Eternal, you better get used to it in the post-Viagra age. And didn't you chuckle at Bob Dole's spots for the miracle drug?

Rather than letting Bacharach set the cruise control on old people speed and doing it for the full hour of this CD, someone should have turned some cameras on the action that "miraculous" first day and released a DVD. A moving live performance of "Raindrops" on a recent episode of Conan O' Brien suggests what could have been -- and that was sans orchestra. Instead, what you receive is an album that practically begs you to log onto Kazaa and pick through its better tracks. After all, as opposed to these sessions, that Web site really is legendary.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Brian McManus
Contact: Brian McManus