Earth, Wind & Fire

Not Rated

Earth, Wind and Fire is a R&B tentet from Chicago with several vocalists, horn players that are polished but not too much, and a heavy Sly influence. Which is no denigration, because Sly's riffs are showing up (in sometimes peculiar contexts) in a large percentage of the albums appearing today, from Redbone to your latest funky-bucolic rock band. Sly pacesetters like "Thank You" are written all over such songs as "C'Mon Children" and "Moment of Truth." Which is not to say that they're not good listening. What they lack, though, is Sly's sense of derision and irony. The lyrics, unwisely printed inside, are as preachy and lovepeace cloying as anything Motown has done recently.

The Fifth Dimension also show up, in the smooth harmonies and intermittent lack of tension, and, to a much lesser degree, the voices of East Harlem, in certain loose whoops that well up from the distance of primal chaos to intrude on these facile surfaces. Leader Reese White is thoroughly a pro, with background citations a yard long, and maybe that's why the hand he keeps on the reins is a bit heavy. Earth, Wind and Fire may become vastly popular, though they will have to show more originality than is evidenced here if they do, but I'd like to hear more of the burning sax solo cut so short in the last part of "Fan the Fire," or the great marimba work which gurgles and flashes like Caribbean foam through the beginning and end of "Bad Tune." The joy there deserves dilation.

Mandrill, another new R&B based group, have a lot more sass and youthfulness, and their music makes it from juke jive to jazz riffs right out of some of the great albums Herbie Mann made in the early Sixties. This is party music, and comes more out of Chicago and especially Santana than Sly. Unfortunately, it also derives somewhat from the Chambers Brothers, so a suite called "Peace and Love" gobbles the second side, and while it has real musical interest where its Chambers antecedent had none, it still suffers by the pompous lyrics and general sense of pretension and ersatz gimmickry. But it works well enough that you don't really mind, and some rippling flute streams early on and the humor and highball bop of the rest more than compensate. Besides, the cover bears the proud face of one of old Willie B.'s very own purple-assed baboons, suitable for framing. What more could we ask?

From The Archives Issue 567: December 14, 1989