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Picks and Pans Review: Heritage

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Earth, Wind & Fire

At their peak, they were simply astounding, turning out album after album of buoyant, celebratory music that carried pop-soul about as close to genius as it is likely to get. Even after Earth, Wind & Fire broke up in 1983, front men Maurice White and Philip Bailey continued to put out intermittently inspired work in their solo careers. When they reunited in 1987 for the timid EW&F album Touch the World and then System of Survival, it seemed the magic was gone.

Heritage happily restores the group’s reputation, with a full dose of energy and creativity. It’s full of the old EW&F flourishes: the kalimba playing, the short instrumental interludes between songs, the soaring vocals and the best use of horns since Jericho—or at least James Brown. The arrangements are much more juiced up and funky. Just taste “Good Time” with guest vocalist Sly Stone. Then let the stereo play on, because that song is followed by the sumptuous ballad “Anything You Want.”

Wait, wait. You also ought to make sure you check out the frisky slam-jam of “King of Groove.” Earth, Wind & Fire set the high standard that all pop-soul groups—even themselves reincarnate-are destined to be measured against. With this release, they do their Heritage proud. (Columbia)