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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Record Reviews > Earth Wind & Fire

MUSIC REVIEWS

Earth Wind & Fire-Illumination (Sanctuary)

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 "Shining Star." 

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.

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 Supernatural album resurrected his career in 1999 it has become something of an epidemic. 

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.  (9/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 4, 2005.

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Copyright 2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 4, 2005.