Earth, Wind & Fire

The Promise

In the last couple of years, Earth, Wind & Fire caved in to the modern tides and recorded a hip hop project for Columbia Records with Wyclef Jean. But it felt too distant from the group's essence, and the project was scrapped. As a result, The Promise is the act's first album in six years, offered on EWF founder Maurice White's own Kalimba Records (the name is a reference to the band's love of the thumb piano).

Joyous without raising the hackles of cynicism, The Promise honors its vow of delivering songs of the consistent quality that EWF devotees knew were still inside original players Maurice and Verdine White and Philip Bailey. The musicians aren't creating from within a nostalgia bubble, though: They have an ear to the modern soul sound and a sharp-as-ever technical proficiency honed from constant touring. The band might even have listened to some current club sounds: The short instrumental interludes "Promise I" and "Promise II" and the closing tune "Dirty" incorporate the genre's cues about maintaining momentum.

While "All in the Way" was selected as the album's first single (it has landed on adult contemporary radio all over the country), "Wonderland" is the true shining star. Its title gives a nod to the group's 1979 smash "Boogie Wonderland," and like that hit, it features guest backup vocals from the Emotions (who lent their golden throats to another classic, 1981's "Let's Groove") in addition to a performance by new-generation R&B siren Angie Stone. Predictably, singer Bailey blesses every song that he's in, but his distinctive falsetto is perfect as it blends with the mellow tones of White and Gregory Curtis on the salsa-flavored "Never." Still timelessly beautiful, EWF is a pledge upon which we can bet.

 
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