Friday, November 11, 2011

I'd Love To Turn You On #43 - Earth, Wind & Fire – Open Our Eyes

The fifth album by Earth Wind and Fire, Open Our Eyes, may as well be their first. Over the course of four earlier albums, drummer-singer-leader Maurice White refined his concept of a mystical jazz-soul-funk-gospel fusion and finally hit gold – literally – here, cracking the Billboard top 20 on the album charts and scoring two top 40 singles – the funky powerhouse “Mighty Mighty” and the soul staple “Devotion” (a third single, “Kalimba Story” didn’t make the top 40 but came close and was the first of EW&F’s single to put White’s interest in traditional African music out there). But the reason things worked out so well is tied directly to Colorado a couple ways.
First off, the band had shaken up its personnel over the course of the earlier albums, revamping and tightening things to be able to more clearly articulate his vision. And it was after a concert in Denver that Maurice White met Philip Bailey, East High graduate and soul singer whose range and ability impressed White enough to ask him to join the band when Bailey moved to L.A. to further his music career. And Bailey’s falsetto was key in defining the band’s sound, mixing with White’s tenor to create the stunning harmonies that characterized their music. The other Colorado tie is that the album was recorded at the famed Caribou Ranch studios outside of Nederland, and it is the vibe of the relaxed Rocky Mountains that allowed White and his band the creative space to really coalesce their ideas (and also served as the backdrop on the cover). And it paid off. They hit their stride right from the opening double shot of “Mighty Mighty” and “Devotion” and continue through the terrific shoulda-been-a-single of “Fair But So Uncool.” The LP A-side closes out on “Feelin’ Blue” and the other single “Kalimba Song” which sets up what’s going to run through the B-side, showing off their jazzier side and indulging White’s interest in African and Latin grooves. On CD, the effect of “Kalimba Story” running directly into the well-named “Drum Song” might be even better than the LP effect of closing and opening successive sides, because they’re of a piece with each other – sister songs, almost – and they sound made to segue right to the next one. The rest of the album rolls through a humorous street funk number, some straight up jazz (no fusion here) a Latinized tribute to the Caribou Ranch, and closes things out with a gospel obscurity that lends the album its title. All in all, it shows off every facet of Earth Wind & Fire’s vocal, instrumental, and songwriting abilities at their finest, and may stand as their best album.

No comments: