The Ruffin Brothers: I Am My Brother's Keeper

The confused sexual politics of the era can be found in the mixed messages of the 1970 release. There’s everything from the patient and respectful to the down and dirty.

The Ruffin Brothers

I Am My Brother's Keeper

Label: Hip-O Select
US Release Date: 2010-08-24
UK Release Date: 2010-08-16

Brothers Jimmy and David Ruffin had two of the most soulful voices of the '60s. Don’t take my word for it; ask their Motown stable mate Marvin Gaye. He called David the most virile singer he knew and envied David’s strong masculine charm. David was lead singer of the Temptations during the band’s most vital period. That’s him out in front on “My Girl”, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, “I Wish It Would Rain”, and other classics from the 1964-1968 Temptations era. And David wasn’t even the group’s first choice of the two brothers to join the band. That honor goes to Jimmy, who reportedly decided to launch a solo career instead. Jimmy’s biggest hit from that time was the deeply emotive “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”.

By 1970, David parted ways with the Temptations and had a hit with the single “My Whole World Ended”. The idea of the two siblings joining together and putting out a brothers-type concept album seems a no brainer. I Am My Brother's Keeper was only moderately successful at the time, with no big hits. There are many reasons for this. David allegedly had a serious cocaine addiction. Times and tastes had changed, and the album was a throwback to the sounds of the past. The album lacked a catchy single. While there are many possible explanations, Hip-O Select has reissued the album with bonus cuts, and because of the talent of the musicians involved, it’s time for a serious re-evaluation of the record.

The most notable feature of the album is just how damn good Jimmy and David sound. Not only do they never hit a false note, the two voices combine well without ever losing their individual identities. Jimmy has a smooth voice, while David’s is rough and gritty. The brothers play off of each other for full effect, especially on the most “brotherly” songs, such as “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” and “Stand by Me”. They turn the old Ben E. King tune into an anthem of filial affection. They do two versions of “Stand by Me” here, one a faux live rendition and the other undubbed, but in terms of vocal harmonies there are no great differences between the two tracks. Both effectively work as testaments of fraternal solidarity.

A stranger, but more compelling family narrative is the melodramatic “Got to See If I Can’t Get Mommy (To Come Back Home)” in which the father tells his young children to hold on while he goes to fetch his wife, only to learn she has had an automobile accident and drowned in the nearby waterway. The weeper rivals Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Cry Daddy” in its tug at the heartstrings with lyrics such as, “How do you make a little boy a man / When he’s only three”. Whew. Jimmy and David dramatically sing over each other as the song climaxes then fades away.

The confused sexual politics of the era can be found in the mixed messages of the 1970 release. There’s everything from the patient and respectful “Your Love Was Worth Waiting For” and “True Love Can Be Beautiful” to the down and dirty "Set ‘Em Up (Move in for the Thrill)" and the previously unreleased “You're What I Need (Not What I Want)”, with sleazy lines like “I don’t even like you / But girl you love me so right”. Love and sex seem to operate in two different arenas here. The brothers share dual perspectives on life, which befits their early careers in gospel music before going secular. This can be seen in their range of covers. The two best ones aren’t the “brothers” songs mentioned earlier, but a spiritual rendition of James Taylor’s “Lo and Behold” and a sultry version of the Delfonics’ orgasmic “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”. The duo sings both songs with conviction and flair.

While I Am My Brother’s Keeper comes off as a somewhat patchwork affair, this is what keeps the album consistently interesting. You never know what the two are going to sing about next. As the title of one of the most affecting tracks says, it is all part of “The Things We Have to Do” -- belief in a higher power and the glory of sex are just small parts of living and dying. The only sure thing that you can always count on is your brother. The harmonies on this album provide proof of that.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.