Generally speaking, it is easier for a white band to appeal (and sell records) to a black audience than it is for a black band (rhythm and blues, disco, whatever label you prefer) to attract a white audience. Only Sly and the family Stone has crossed over with any consistency, and Sly has been as good as dead for several albums now.
The next closest thing to a massappeal black act in Earth, Wind and Fire. Albums like "That's the way of the world" (Columbia PC 33280) and "Gratitude" (Columbia PG 33694), and hit singles "Shining Star" and "Sing a Song" made E/w/F an across-the-board sucess - especially in the Washington area, where their albums regularly outsold the eagles and Stevie Wonder.
Last time around, though, E/W/F abandoned their popular approach - and "Spirit" (Columbia PC 34241) sold almost exclusively to blacks. Not that this caused financial hardship - just an identity lapse among white listerners.
Now, though, Earth, Wind and Fire is back with "All 'n' All" (Columbia JC 34905), an album sure to rekindle their mass acceptance and possibly the most consistently impressive record the group has ever done.
The major reasons for this reawakening are a more jazz-influenced (as opposed to soul-influenced) sound and the development of leader Maurice White as a producer.
There are fully realized dance tunes (not disco dance but melodies that are musically-based, not rhythmically-based) like "Serpentine Fire," "In the Marketplace/Jupiter" and "Magic Mind." There are ballads, including "I'll Write a Song for You," "Love's Holiday" and "Be Ever Wonderful," all of which incorporate exquisite vocal harmonies. And then there are two pieces, "Fantasy" and "Runnin'/Brazilian Rhyme," which prove that Earth, Wind and Fire can play with anyone.
"Runnin/Brazilian Rhyme" utilizes jazz, sanba, rock and some superior lyric interplay for a totally rounded composition, while "Fantasy" stands as the best cut on the album. Here, White's production is impaccable and though the song may lack the "hooks" necessary to make it an AM radio staboard, "Fantasy" is a classic amalgamation of falsetto harmonies, thumping bass lines and tasteful hoen fills.
All in all, "All 'n' "All" is a stylish melodic record, full of reshing surprises and a deserving group's sure (Earth, Wind and) fire ticket back into the pop mainstream.