What does it sound like?:
Santana’s and The Isley’s mutual appreciation goes back a long way. Carlos recalls hearing Twist & Shout on the radio in 1962 and thinking he’d like a piece of that chart action. In the seventies, The Isleys went to see Santana live and were inspired to create the sound of their best album, 3+3. Carlos returned the compliment by covering That Lady. Finally, Ronnie Isley met Carlos and his wife, Cindy, backstage when Santana were opening for Rod Stewart. Carlos rates Ronnie as one of the best vocalists of all time and told him so in gushing terms. Soon, Ronnie was singing on Santana IV and now their collaboration has broadened to include Ernie Isley on rhythm guitar, both Isley wives on backing vocals (Kandy and Tracy), the rest of Santana, including Cindy on drums, Greg Phillinganes on keyboards (a stroke of genius by Ronnie) and a whole album. Carlos produces, arranges and provides the main drive behind the project, yet is generous enough to take second billing to the man who sang the song played for the first dance at his wedding in 2010, The Look Of Love.
The production is lush, multi-layered, beautifully balanced with tremendous depth. The two acts are made for each other. What’s the betting Carlos wishes Ronnie had been singing with him for decades. For a seventy-seven year old, his pipes are still powerful and gritty, then imploring in the high notes. The guitar blend with Ernie sounds as though it has been finally honed over hundreds of gigs. Ernie can really groove but is skilful enough to leave some gaps for Carlos to work his magic with his pure tone and natural fluidity.
The real revelation is the rhythm section. Cindy has a background in jazz and Latin Jazz in particular. Here, she hits the two and the four with real authority and vigour while Benny Rietveld adds real heft on bass. When two different acts collaborate, they often find a bland middle ground. On Power Of Peace, they push each other into the relatively unfamiliar territory of Rock. Add Ernie’s guitar cooking up the groove and you have a rhythm section as powerful as the one Miles Davis put together for A Tribute To Jack Johnson. Of course, when it comes to the spiritual ballads, they also possess a sensitive touch and are capable of great delicacy.
The material consists of choice pickings of classic Soul, Gospel and Blues around the theme of Peace and Love, with one original written by Cindy. They pay respect to the song, then stretch to give room for the guitars to sing. These performances aren’t all about sitting around a campfire singing Kumbaya. There’s a real sense of purpose, a thrust, an aggression.
The opener, The Chambers Brothers Are You Ready, features storming percussion, Ronnie with his best gutbucket growl and testosterone-fuelled guitar, Carlos concluding the song with an effortless shred. Ronnie is in his element on Swamp Dogg’s Total Destruction To Your Mind, fired on to arguably his finest vocal of the album by Greg Phillinganes rollicking piano. Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground thunders along, as ear splitting as any Heavy Metal, with a on point rap at the close by Santana’s regular singer, Tony Lindsay. God Bless The Child is a nice enough break for a breather, Greg’s piano lines beautifully underpinning Ronnie’s spiritual vocal until, at the halfway point, a Carlos solo kicks the song into a higher gear. Then, Cindy gets to sing her gentle song, I Remember, backed by acoustic guitar, Ronnie’s lovely background flourishes and Carlos picking out notes as though selecting the best flowers for a bouquet. Eddie Kendricks Body Talk gets the full bedroom Soul seduction treatment, the guitar really turning on the charm towards the end. Curtis Mayfield’s Gypsy Woman begins with a Latin percussion that morphs into a slow Reggae lilt. Santana have covered the song before but Ronnie brought it to table for this album, so he’s given all the time he needs to relish the words before Carlos sends the song off with his most subtle solo of the LP. Muddy Water’s I Just Want To Make Love You is given extra weight and pep by adding the riff from Foxy Lady, Carlos playing at his heaviest and Ronnie raging like a bull. There is no let up either for Swamp Dogg’s Love, Peace And Happiness, almost a call to arms, delivered with real forcefulness. It’s quite a relief to hear Greg’s delectable piano lines again for What The World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love, sung with real feeling by Ronnie as Carlos pushes the melody to another level. The cover of Marvin Gaye’s Mercy, Mercy Me is faithful, warm and loving, Ernie and Carlos taking on the role of the strings. For Leon Thomas’s Let The Rain Fall On Me, the guitars take a rest and we are in a bar with just brushed drums, stand-up bass and a jazz piano, before the big finale, a rabble-rousing Let There Be Peace On Earth, replete with its gospel choir, strings and piles of percussion.
There isn’t a dull moment. Contrasting highlights are Total Destruction To Your Mind and What The World Needs Now. At 67 minutes, it’s overlong. Mercy, Mercy Me doesn’t add much other than livening up a relatively quiet latter third and Let There Be Peace On Earth is overladen with saccharine, but these are minor quibbles. Power Of Peace is a joyful, uplifting album full of ferocious rhythms, spectacular guitar, delicate piano and dynamic vocals. It’s the best album either of these two acts have released in many a year.
What does it all *mean*?
These veterans are really good at what they do. A match made in Heaven.
Goes well with…
Most of The Afterword will need a Viagra to keep up with these guys. Rank alongside The Rolling Stones Blue & Lonesome.
Might suit people who like…
Soul, Latin, Rock, effortlessly skilful playing and singing.