The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on July 1, 1979 · 367
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · 367

Los Angeles, California
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 1, 1979
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3 i z 00 OS Q 2 w w O CALENDAR POP RECORDS . . . it; Sir v i ' I t """x I r M . ft in1' I I V I EW&F: THE SWEETEST MUZAK THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN BY CONNIE JOHNSON "I AM." Earth, Wind and Fire. Columbia FC 35730. Earth, Wind and Fire's harmonies, buoyed by the soaring, sanctified falsetto of Phillip Bailey, have been compared to the Beach Boys'. Its lyrics, inspired by leader Maurice White's belief in God, pyramid power, and extraterrestrial beings, have been called pretentiously spacey mind candy. And its sound, which encompasses Afro-Cuban rhythms, hard rock and disco, is so blatantly accessible that it's been labeled "black Muzak." Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the group's last four albums have gone double-platinum, and its followers are almost equally blackwhite, making EW&F the first black supergroup to emerge since Sly and the Family Stone. The group was formed in 1969, and its early jazz-purist roots borrowed heavily from John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Today, its slickly commercial renderings have caused some critics to cry "sell-out." But while the group itself regards jazz as "the ultimate in creativity," it's never apologized for changing its direction to appeal to a broader, cross-over audience. EW&F's best songs ("That's the Way of the World," "Reasons," "Shining Star") examined the concepts of spiritualism, Utopia and universal brotherhood. Its goals have been lofty, and the means of expressing them preachy, but somehow the underlying sincerity and hard-driving percussive beat made it all bearable. On this album, several tracks focus on manwoman love and romance. And although EW&F's material is usually written by five of the group's nine members, these songs were co-written by Maurice White and seven outside writers. Lyrically, "After the Love Is Gone" and "You and I" are easier to grasp than the group's past, esoteric efforts. "Rock That!" is a surprise, a quasi-rock instrumental dominated by three drums, Verdine White's blistering bass lines, and horns that punctuate the tune's dizzying tempo changes. "Boogie Wonderland," the album's one bona-fide disco track, teams EW&F with the Emotions, a merger that should have resulted in some ingeniously vampy harmonies. But the results aren't as exciting as those of "Star," which capitalizes on Bailey's piercing vocals. "I Am" is freshly innovative for EW&F in that it emphasizes the one-on-one as opposed to the cosmic experience, and freely utilizes the skill of other writers to propel that message. The album should also enforce EW&F's image as trend-setters for other rhythm & blues groups seeking to escape the traditional, doo-wop mold. Ted Nugent NUGENT AND ALUMNI MISS MARKS BY DON SNOWDEN "STATE OF SHOCK." Ted Nugent. Epic FE 36000 "ST. PARADISE." St. Paradise. Warner Bros. BSK 3281. The Ted Nugent image the macho-primitive wild man rampaging through the heartland beating down all opposition with his trusty six-string recalled an earlier era of American individualism when the Detroit guitarist burst onto the national scene in 1975, but with "State of Shock," his sixth Epic LP, the novelty is wearing thin. Everything here-from the cover graphics and album title to the cliched hard-rock riffs and mindless lyrics comes across as a marketing tool designed to reinforce and sell the familiar Nugent legend. The sole exception, and consequently the brst song, is the bluesy ballad "Alone," in which Nugent drops his guard to deal with real feelings rather than play the Motor City Madman to the hilt. St. Paradise is a sideman supergroup-lead singer-guitarist Derek St. Holmes and bassist Rob Grange are Nugent alumni and drummer Denny Carmassi a Montrose-Sammy Hagar veteran-but the trio is uncomfortably straddling two musical worlds. The music on its debut album is smoother and more refined than the players' high-energy rock backgrounds would suggest, but is still too rough and raucous for the mainstream pop-rock audience that appears to be its target. St. Paradise's greatest asset is St. Holmes' stirring singing at times he sounds like the missing vocal link between the young Stevie Winwood and Sting of the Police but the mundane material and fussy production make for an uninspiring premiere.

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