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Gratitude (Earth, Wind & Fire)

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Gratitude (Columbia)

A live performance of Earth, Wind & Fire is more like a religious service than a stage show. That's why their latest album, "Gratitude," three-quarters of which was recorded at various concerts, is something extraordinary. It's a believable, warm and human gospel that they offer and their following is enormous and uniformly ecstatic.

A spirit of gratitude certainly directs E, W&F through their music. They perform, one feels, on our behalf: for us. Their music tries to unify a network of shared aspirations and needs, and to make us feel them. "We're just here to remind you, yearnin' learnin' is what you're doin'." 

This album contains many of E, W&F's most familiar work, as evidenced by the howling recognition that accompanies the first notes of every song. There is "Shining Star," with a looser feel and a rhythmic attack out of Sly's bag. "Sun Goddess" is done without Ramsey Lewis and truly doesn't suffer from his absence.

The most delightful thing about E, W&F is that they aren't tied down into a sound. Unlike other large ensembles, they have a great array of effects which leader Maurice White arranges to fit the demands of every song. Witness the tender and thoughtful ease of "Devotion" -voices are raised in billowing gospel-like harmonies over the silken rhythm section and Larry Dunn's organ: "Your devotion opens all life's treasures...Believe us." Mercy! One can't help but believe!

There's much more to discover, four bountiful sides worth, and I envy you not having heard them yet. Earth, Wind and Fire hook you by the ear but pull you up by the heart. 

-David Weiss