I grew up listening to Earth Wind & Fire – The Elements. I poured over my sister’s collection time and time again. Those brothers were tight. Excuse me…ARE tight! This latest release, “Now, Then & Forever,” is their 20th studio album, part of a discography that spans 40 years.
The opening track Sign On, greets you with all the “elements” of the signature EWF sound – strong groove, powerful horn section, solid and positive lyrics and of course, Philip Bailey’s falsetto. The energy of this tune is reminiscent of “Serpentine Fire,” one of my favorite classics.
The simple, but expressive lyrics of Love is Law speak to EWF’s typical theme of universal love. They are a solid accompaniment to a strong tune with a smooth and easy-going flow.
The lyrics of My Promise might suggest a love ballad, but it is actually an uptempo ode to love and commitment. My promise to you is I’ll be there with a love that’s tried and true… I have been hearing this single on satellite radio over the past few weeks and each time I hear it, I find myself saying, “The Elements still have IT!”
Guiding Lights offers lyrics with a positive and hopeful message. EWF founder Maurice White describes his desire for EWF in their biography: “I wanted our music to convey messages of universal love and harmony without force-feeding listeners’ spiritual content.” This track is proof that EWF remains committed to Maurice White’s vision. If you’re looking for the life that’s in you/And you tryna figure how you gonna do/Let the guiding lights take ya…Philip Bailey finishes off the tune with a nice high note. Naturally, his falsetto does not sound as strong as it used to, but he definitely holds his own here.
Got to Be Love opens with smooth vocal harmonies (another typical element of the EWF sound). Morris O’Connor and Errol Cooney nail the strong guitar arrangement. Belo Horizonte is a smooth bossa nova instrumental with crisp lead guitar, backed by a beautiful string arrangement.
Dance Floor is not my favorite track, as I personally find “dance tunes” a bit past their prime. I didn’t even think there were “dance floors” anymore! Then again, the lyrics do mention that, “…feeling good ain’t going out of style.” Splashes is a jazzy instrumental with soft vocals reminiscent of those in Sun Goddess. Night of My Life has a pop feel, with obvious heavy metal-like guitar riffs and strong on 80’s electronic keyboards.
My reaction when I heard the opening measures of The Rush: Ahhh…there’s the kalimba (yet another element of the EWF sound)! The Rush is a soulful, gritty horns-heavy tune that completes the release (net the bonus tracks). The only thing that could make life better/Is if that knocking on my door right now is you/Girl, I hope that it’s you.
If you purchase the CD at Target, you receive two bonus tracks. So as a “bonus” to this review, I have asked my fellow blogger/podcaster Doug Ramsay, a.k.a. Mr Fresh, of the Sunday Soundtrack Podcast at vibesnscribes.com, to give us his review of the bonus tracks:
Hero As He Rose is a nice uptempo track, with a fusion-like intro that serves as the hook as well. Philip Bailey’s falsetto harmonies are prevalent there, but the verses switch to vocal lines reminiscent of what the great Maurice White would sing. A very funky track, but funky in terms of the brand of EWF funk that is like no other. As expected, the fluid horn arrangements we’re all familiar with lace the track nicely. The synth arrangement is typical of Larry Dunn’s (the writer of the track) keyboard wizardry. He ends the track with a solo outro that is like icing on a cake.
The second bonus track Whirlwind, written by Larry Dunn, is a ballad in 3/4 time that has the underpinnings of their earlier hit, “Be Ever Wonderful” from the All ‘N All LP, but with greater orchestration. Once again, Philip’s falsetto reigns strong, but with a hint of raspiness. Despite that (and understandably so), it brings that element of EWF vocal magic we all know and love. The movements are lush, the lyrics substantial, and once again, towards the end of the track, showcases the artistry of Larry Dunn. A nice bonus track to have for the entire CD. Though Dunn is no longer an official member of EWF, he has lent his signature style to not just the writing of and performance on the bonus tracks, but many other tracks on the CD.
Maurice White, who no longer tours with the group, is quoted as saying, “I wanted to create a library of music that would stand the test of time.” Forty years deep, EWF has clearly done just that. “Now, Then & Forever” is a must-have for any EWF fan’s collection.