The Isley Brothers were already legends in the music game when their 24th album Smooth Sailin arrived. Hitting record stores on March 14th, 1987, Smooth Sailin was the first album that the brothers released as a duo of Rudolph and Ronald. Eldest brother O’Kelly had sadly passed away one year prior.
Wanting to go in a new direction, the brothers linked up with singer-songwriter Angela Winbush. The songstress had a hand in the writing and production of all but one of the album’s eight tracks. “Everything Is Alright” opens up the album, which finds the brothers experimenting in synthesized production. Ronald’s vocals still sound impeccable as ever over Winbush’s production.
It is clear that the label wanted the group to appear to a younger crowd with Winbush’s production choices. As I glided through song titles such as “Dish It Out” and “It Takes a Good Woman,” they just didn’t hit for me. Now, this is not a diss to the immense talent of Winbush or The Isley’s. However, the songs either do not fit or there safe. “Dish It Out would’ve been better suited for New Edition and placed on a soundtrack. While It Takes a Good Woman” attempts to evoke reggae seem better suited for, say Maxi Priest.
“Send a Message” gets the album back on track, thankfully. A beautiful tribute and dedication song for their brother O’ Kelly Isley evoked memories for me of two friends I have lost in the last decade. Ron croons over heartfelt lyrics highlighting a love for his sibling. The album’s title track follows. What can I say about this BOP that you do not already know?
“Smooth Sailin Tonight“ is a smooth ride-out track that has numerous layers to it. Whether you want to get over a heartbreak of a failed relationship, set the mood for a night of romance, or sit by the fire with a glass of wine, then you listen to this song.
“Somebody I Used to Know” finds the group thinking about lost love. Ron effortlessly croons about the one that got away and takes ownership of his mistakes before transitioning to a new conquest on “Come My Way.” Ironically, the song covers an earlier Winbush track from her days in the duo Rene & Angela. Smooth Sailing closes out with a textbook begging ballad from Ron written by Raymond Reeder titled “I Wish.”
Smooth Sailing is a weaker entry in the Isley’s Brothers catalog. However, it was the start of a tremendous fourteen-year musical chemistry run with Angela Winbush. There is some strength in the ballads, but the first half is forgettable. Nevertheless, the album title track puts to shame some artists whose careers started after The Isley Brothers.
Final Grade: C+
Top Tracks: “Smooth Sailin Tonight, “Send A Message,” and “Come My Way”
Smooth Sailin is available on all streaming platforms