The mighty Earth, Wind and Fire are now essentially a three piece – Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson. The trio work hard to keep the EWF brand alive and kicking and when it comes to making new music their stature is such that they can call on a bevy of top players and sidemen to help them deliver. ‘Now, Then & Forever’ is their first new studio album in over 8 years and Bailey, White and Johnson along with guests and erstwhile colleagues like Larry Dunn, Benjamin Morris, Jerry Hey, Michael “Patches” Stewart, Chuck Findley and Terence Blanchard have crafted a great 10 tracker that moves the band forward whilst remaining true to the EWF legacy.
To understand this, look no further than the set’s lead single. ‘My Promise’ is pure EWF. It’s built from the same elements that ensured the band’s prime time music achieved classic status. So here hear that famous tight, driving bass line, the thumping beats, the layered harmonies, the punchy brass fills and the instantly recognizable, soaring falsetto of Philip Bailey. It’s a delight and ‘Sign On’, ‘Night Of My Life’ and ‘Love Is Law’ offer more of the same. The last one in particular is a lovely restrained beater that must be investigated by sophisticated modern soulsters.
‘Guiding Lights’ is a lovely shimmering ballad that recalls many of the band’s early slower moments. It prefaces a pair of ultra laid back cuts – ‘Got To Be Love’ and the instrumental ‘Bello Horizonte’. Both tunes would sit nicely on any Ibizan chill-out album. The best chiller, though, is ‘Splashes’. Mildly exotic, it’s clearly built on the chassis of Maurice White’s ‘Sun Goddess’ and features Terence Blanchard’s beautiful trumpet.
Sadly there’s one track that I had difficulty connecting with and I’m sure I’m not the only committed EWF fan that will have difficulty with ‘Dance Floor’. It’s a fast and frantic dancer and you need to look no further than the title to see that it’s little more than a throwaway. Its lack of depth is highlighted by the inclusion of 6 EWF classic oldies like ‘Boogie Wonderland’ and ‘September’. Not too sure why Sony have included them… EWF fans will already have ’em all… maybe they’re there as a pointer to the upcoming EWF retrospective box set (see our news pages for more details).
In the meantime, enjoy this new collection …a worthy addition to a legendary band’s catalogue, notwithstanding ‘Dance Floor’.