Early on in their career, Earth Wind & Fire gained
notice by guesting on some songs by classic jazzman Ramsey Lewis.
While the songs were only moderate hits, they blew the doors open for the
group and within a month after the Lewis/EW&F single "Hot Dawgit" peaked at
50 on the Billboard pop charts, they had their first number one single with
For the next decade, the soul collective was nearly
unstoppable, racking up ten top-20 singles including "Fantasy," "September,"
"That's the Way of the World," "Boogie Wonderland" and "After the Love is
Gone." Then, when they were on top of the world, things started
crashing down. First band leaders Maurice White and Philip Bailey
played dueling solo albums (with falsettoed singer Bailey capturing more
attention than band leader White due to "Easy Lover," a smash duet with Phil
Collins). Then health problems caused White to have to quit touring
with the band, though he still records and writes with the group. The
albums became fewer and farther between and soon the group was sort of left
behind in the fickle world of soul.
album resurrected his career in 1999 it has become something of an epidemic. Thirty years later, just like Ramsey Lewis had done, they are the elder statesmen who
bring in the young hot performers to bolster their sound. It's not
exactly a novel idea anymore -- in fact, since Santana's
The old EW&F magic comes through on stomping soul
throw-downs like "Work It Out," the magically old school "The One" and sultry ballads like "To You" with guest
vocalist Brian McKnight. Most spectacularly gorgeous is "Show Me the
Way," in which writer/producer/artist Raphael Saadiq distills everything
great about the group into an almost eight-minute slow jam.
The only true and total misstep here is when the band
does a nearly unlistenable cover of OutKast's "The Way You Move."
Beyond the fact that the song was always just a very lightweight cop of
Earth Wind and Fire's sound in the first place -- OutKast should be covering
EW&F, not the other way around -- it is made doubly lame by an intrusive
horn lead performance by Kenny G. (The song was originally on G's
At Last - The Duets CD released earlier this year.)
It's sort of a shame that a brilliant funk collective
like Earth Wind & Fire has to bring in guests to get us to pay attention to
them. However, unlike so many veteran artists who do similar projects,
this doesn't sound like they are guests on their own album. The sound
and vision are all Earth Wind and Fire.