, the 23rd record of their extraordinary career, Earth, Wind & Fire collaborate with generations of appreciative artists that have gleaned profound inspiration from their work. The influence is crystal-clear when Black Eyed Peas leader Will. I. Am shouts "Jump up, freak or hustle/Do what you want, just move every muscle," then mimics EWF's peppery horn and kalimba lines on his rousing "Lovely People." The reverence is sun-gold in crooner Brian McKnight's fusion of key elements from EWF's ballads "You," "Love's Holiday," and "After the Love is Gone" to create his own epic, "To You." And the quality is as strong as ever, proven by the album's first single "Show Me the Way," which earned a 2004 Grammy nomination.
's star-studded new single, EWF bounces to the ATL for the hip hop-laced party joint "This Is How I Feel," produced by Organized Noize, featuring rapper Big Boi of OutKast and singers Sleepy Brown and Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child in a duet with EWF lead singer Philip Bailey. Elsewhere, super producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, former members of the band the Time, tip their trademark hats in tribute to the horn-laced ensemble sound of the Fire with the gently uplifting "Pure Gold" plus the sexy flirtation "Love Dance." Acclaimed female poetry/soul duo Floetry bring their conscience cleansing balm to the soothing motivator "Elevated." R&B futurist Vikter Duplaix laces the joyously tropical instrumental "Liberation," which features tantalizing bursts of EWF's wondrous wordless vocal melodies. As a bonus, the pied piper of soprano sax Kenny G guests on a cover of OutKast's infectious, instant club classic, "The Way You Move." Finally, Raphael Saadiq, the producer/songwriter who is also the leader of Tony Toni Toné and Lucy Pearl, produced four songs on Illumination
, including "Show Me the Way"--a duet he sings with EWF leader Maurice White. He also contributes the samba-rooted "Work it Out," a lovely showcase for Philip's falsetto titled "Pass You By," and the vibrant opening track "Love Together".
The seeds of Illumination
's origin sprang from an idea Philip Bailey had of collaborating with a new generation of soul artists for his next solo album. However, reflecting on the success Santana had in collaborating with today's artists on his award-winning Supernatural
album, it became clear that this was a golden opportunity to fortify Earth Wind & Fire's position in today's marketplace. "I was 22 when I joined Earth Wind & Fire in 1973," Philip shares. "I'm 53 now. It's the 22 year-olds' time now...Usher's time! What Santana did was a masterpiece, but it would not have gotten played the way it did without the guest artists that he had. Superstars are coupling with other artists because the playing field is so competitive now. Earth Wind & Fire collaborating with the new soul movement made sense because the thrust of their music is still about playing instruments and utilizing vintage sounds, only in today's setting."
, Earth, Wind & Fire take a hip-hop strategy and turn it on its head, working rhymes and beats into their still pudding-smooth harmonies and sun-warmed, ethereal soul. For other bands, it would have never worked, but Earth, Wind & Fire have always been masters at sophisticated genre-piling. If anyone has earned the right, it's frontmen Philip Bailey and Maurice White and the rest of the gang. Few other 35-year-old, eight-time Grammy-winning bands can claim as many followers or liberally-borrowing samplers. Where other old-timers might have let the young'uns--in this case Big Boi, Will.I.Am, and Kelly Rowland, among others--scribble their ultra-mod, find-it-here brand of cool all over the record, Earth, Wind & Fire are able to maintain their elemental excellence in the midst of the hip-hop boogie shuffle. Hear it on "The One," as well as the white-hot spectacle "This Is How I Feel" and the Raphael Saadiq smoothie "Show Me the Way." The Rolling Stones aren't the only Rock and Roll Hall of Famers to score an incredible new disc in 2005. --Tammy La Gorce