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Bright, Versatile, Soulful, Funky, Consistent... and affordable!,
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This review is from: Original Album Classics [Box Set] [Audio CD] Earth Wind & Fire (Audio CD)
'...my all time favourite band ... they have everything - horns, electric guitar, singers and more - in one band' - Miles Davis
It may seem a profoundly cheap of me to quote an established artist's views as if that somehow provides an unavoidable judgement, but considering that he is joined in this fanfare by the likes of Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder, the fact that this group is primarily remembered in the UK as the 'Boogie Wonderland' guys seems a particular shame.
While Earth Wind & Fire had been a major fixture of the American Charts since 1975, they didn't really garner attention in the UK until their "disco" hits at the close of the decade. What may surprise new listeners to their albums is just how broad and accomplished their sweep of styles is - encompassing fiery "fusion", raw funk, gorgeous gospel balladry, electro-infused floor-fillers, well-integrated Cuban and Brazilian influences and anything else Maurice White saw as suitable to add to the evolving, colourful stew. I have read much criticism over the years - the 'Rough Guide to Rock & Pop' being particularly savage - of the band's motivational lyrical themes, the implication being that they are often too smugly "preachy"... but I think the aspirational, spiritual fervour of the lyrics actually adds to the sense of joy and wonder I get from these recordings. This is hardly Fundamentalist 'fire & brimstone' stuff anyway, there being a strong sense of will to encourage and unite, whatever your beliefs.
Here we have five of their very best releases, comprising 4 studio albums from their late '70s heyday and an expansive, energetic live set. It is perhaps a measure of their consistency in this period that there isn't a critical consensus on which of these albums is the best (Soultracks.com's 'Greatest soul albums of the 70s' list singles out 'That's the Way of the World'; rating aggregator site Rateyourmusic.com has 'Gratitude' as the most widely praised; The Guardian's '1000 albums to hear before you die' particularly lauds 'All n All' and Mojo Magazine's recent '70 Best Soul Albums of the Seventies' claims that 'I Am' is where it's at). In fact the only one that doesn't often appear in lists and books is 'Spirit' which, for what it's worth, is probably my personal favourite!
In all, this is a particularly superb set of recordings (which are nicely remastered here) by a group that combined a great many elements into a distinctive, complex and cohesive sound all their own. If you have even a slight taste for 70s soul, funk, or jazz-rock... I can't really recommend this package highly enough.