The Egyptian falcon motif staring out from the cover of Earth Wind and Fire’s 21st album, Now, Then and Forever, could suggest resurrection or continuation.
And it does, sort of… The group’s first recording in eight years is a continuation or throwback to their late-‘70s heyday: a bright, heady mix of funk, soul, and fusion pop and disco with emphasis on the latter.
Love is Law, the swooning horn driven dance track single, seems to echo from Studio 54.
Known for vibrant and slick recordings and elaborate stage shows (rivalled only by Parliament/Funkadelic) Earth, Wind and Fire’s disco-friendly vibe is in vogue again, courtesy of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. But lest the D-word raise a red flag amongst veterans of the ‘70s disco wars, one should recall burning tracks like the hard funk of Shining Star rather than fixate on Boogie Wonderland.
The band’s forward looking use of horns, jazz, friendly guitar textures and sinuous bass lines elevate the music still, as heard on the high reaching track, Guiding Lights. And then there’s the vocals: Philip Bailey’s falsetto is capable of wailing, laser beam sounds that stretch like synthesized notes. He declaims in front of ensemble singers, going from celestial to sultry with an offhand elegance. (Got To Be Love).
Earth Wind and Fire is slick but not in a shallow, show-off kind of way. With the counter rhythms and textures in the arrangements, things must make sense.
They pull off a deep range of moods. There’s smiley, happy disco on My Promise, shifting robotic funk on Dance Floor, fusion (Splashes) and off beat, lush instrumentals (Belo Horizonte). As well, Afro-Cuban sensibilities move through their sound (The Rush).
Honourable mention goes to Verdine White, bassist extraordinaire. As with the other, original members, vocalist Bailey and percussionist/singer Ralph Johnson, they hold together a big sounding group while pressing forward from their roots.
— Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest music for The Morning Star every Friday.