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Portrait of the Isley Brothers: Harvest for the World (1997)

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Paul Jackson Jr.

Like any other installment in Blue Note's Cover Series, Portrait of the Isley Brothers: Harvest for the World finds a contemporary jazz artist -- in this case, Ronnie Laws -- reinterpreting an entire pop or soul album as a jazz album. Laws decided to cover the Isley Brothers' popular 1976 album Harvest for the World, which contained the hits "Who Loves You Better" and "Harvest for the World," as well as "At Your Best (You Are Love)," which was later covered by Aaliyah. Since Laws' music always had pop and urban soul overtones, it wasn't a huge leap for him to rearrange these tunes as smooth jazz, but it is a surprise that he invests his performances with a lot of heart, passion, and conviction. He's assembled a solid backing band (guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr. shines, in particular), and he invites his daughter Michele to sing on "Let Me Down Easy" and his sister Debra to sing "Who Loves You Better," giving the album some needed variety in lead voices. Ultimately, Laws' Harvest for the World isn't much different stylistically than his average smooth jazz album, but it is one of his better efforts, since it has a batch of eight strong songs and uniformly enjoyable performances, including some of his better improvisations. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine