The Promise –
Review by Brandon A. Perry /
The members of Earth, Wind and Fire remain "shining stars" in the eyes of music lovers all over the world. Since the group’s formation in 1969, listeners have been elevated by timeless and passionate jams such as "Reasons," "Can’t Hide Love," "Boogie Wonderland," "Love’s Holiday," "After the Love Has Gone," Let’s Groove" and many, many others. The band’s classic up-tempo grooves inspired a pronounced urge to dance, while their intoxicating ballads could lift an individual to unspeakable euphoric heights.
All of this nostalgia explains the childish excitement I developed after hearing the news that EWF was issuing a new album called "The Promise." It has been six years since the release of "In the Name of Love," the ensemble’s last creation of new material. I rushed to the nearest record store and purchased a copy of the new record shortly after its May 20th release.
"This collection of songs continues the promise of committed effort to bring you music from the heart," EWF founder Maurice White wrote in the liner notes of "The Promise." He continued, "We try in our own way to encircle our planet with love and light – that’s our promise."
In a press statement, percussionist Ralph Johnson, an original EWF member described how much thought was given to the production of each song from "The Promise."
"It starts with the song. We’ve always begun by making sure that we have great songs for each new CD; otherwise, you’re wasting your time and money in the studio."
After spinning only the first few songs on "The Promise," I immediately knew this project would not be a disappointment. It contains a peculiar blend that mixes EWF’s superior creativity reminiscent of its heyday with the pop oriented sounds of today. In other words, anyone who hears "The Promise" will have one foot planted in 1977, with the other positioned in 2003.
The lively "All in the Way" is a perfect case in point, and serves as "The Promise’s" flagship single. "Betcha" is my favorite track on the disc, and along with "All in the Way," is among the more radio friendly material "The Promise" has to offer.
Veteran vocalist Phillip Bailey is in fine form and his unbelievable falsetto offers a quick reminder of why "Reasons" and "I’ll Write a Song for You" were so well received.
Despite his recently announced battle with Parkinson’s disease, the baritone vocals of Maurice White are as charming and enchanting as ever. White is in firm control throughout majestic jams like "All About Love" and "Why." The latter departs with a soothing conclusion and sweet sax solo courtesy of Gerald Albright.
Other guests on "The Promise" include the incomparable Angie Stone, who shares the mic with Bailey and White on the down-home, neo-soul tune "Wonderland." In addition, the Emotions provide background vocals on "All in the Way" and "All About Love." The Emotions, who still sound the same as they did 20 years ago, were also featured on EWF’s 1978 hit "Boogie Wonderland."
With its swift, Latin-flavored rhythm "Never" comes as close to similar-sounding classics like "Getaway," "In the Stone" and "Let Me Talk" as a record made in 2003 will allow. "She Waits" features the type of lush orchestration that has made many EWF albums complete listening experiences. "Dirty" and "Where Do We Go From Here" are hot gems that were originally recorded in 1978 but dusted off for "The Promise."
But longtime EWF fans and recent converts must be warned; you won’t encounter the deep, hardcore funk found on past EWF cuts like "Serpentine Fire" and "Fair but So Uncool" (and I sorely miss the choppy guitar licks of Al McKay). Nevertheless, Verdine White’s sharp bass can still lock in a tight groove, the EWF horns supply crucial brass tones and the adult contemporary ballads (which make up most of the set) are brilliantly arranged. "The Promise" is further evidence that the hit parade has not come to an end for a band that has already earned six Grammy Awards, six consecutive double platinum albums, 40 million album sales, the BET Lifetime Achievement Award and a recent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks favorably of "The Promise." Gunnar Homdrum, an EWF fan from Oslo, Norway, who maintains a spectacular European Web page on the group, The Surfer’s Guide to Earth, Wind and Fire, said, "This is, in my humble opinion, their best effort since the underrated ‘Faces’ album way back in 1980.The songs are in the EWF tradition-great melodies and lyrics, strong grooves and superlative ballads."
An anonymous, on-line record buyer posted a message on Amazon.com which read, in part, "Get this album; you can’t go wrong! I’ve already gotten three; one for home, one for the car and one for the office."
May 2003 US / June 2003 Japan