Manifestation: The Return Of Maurice White

I once uploaded an old family video from a past visit to East Chicago on YouTube. When my sister saw it, she was brought to tears because she saw something she didn’t expect. As everyone sat around, enjoying Christmas gift exchanges, my late father walked into the shot and sat. It had been 15 years since he’d passed, but she had never seen this clip. It was especially surprising because there is so little video footage of him available.

This is what happened the moment I heard Maurice White’s voice on the first track of his new CD “Manifestation”. It’s been 4 years since his heartbreaking passing but, unlike my father’s surprise cameo, I expected it. I looked for it. I ordered and downloaded it. I just wasn’t READY for it.

As leader and founder of the world-renowned group Earth, Wind & Fire, Maurice has been an established name in the music community for decades. I could offer up a 20,000-word essay on his brilliance and ultimate impact, but this post is about his epic posthumous release of 12 previously unheard tracks.

I quickly loaded the songs onto my phone and ran to my bed as Track #1 – “Sweet Surrender” opened the doorway to lost magnificence. “I’m not gon’ cry. I’m not gon’ cry” I whispered to myself, trying not to sound like Mary J. Blige. “Dear Lord, thank you. Thank you. I’ve missed him so much.”

But Maurice was BACK!

I got halfway through the chorus before I felt a message flow effortlessly through me. Just as my father returned from beyond to comfort my mother during her deepest nights of grief and loneliness, Maurice came to me. I could feel him telling me, “I’m still with you my brother.”

Dear God, he wasn’t back. He never left.

I smiled embarrassingly on the bed as I stared at the ceiling and through the mini-blinds into the overcast skies. The misty wind rolled through the window like ocean water, crashing against my skin, wave after wave. As the music played, my flesh was cooled and my soul was nourished. I chuckled as I listened to his traditional interludes, as only he and Earth, Wind & Fire could create. I continued to giggle as I thought about how he managed to tease us with musical snippets that could very easily have been produced as full-length songs. Especially Track #9 – “Breakin’ In A Brand New Heart”. His other interlude, “Wiggle” was even more fun, being a hip-slappin’ funky-ass extension to the song of the same name from EWF’s 2003 CD “The Promise”.

From the massaging effects of the laid back ballad “True Love Is Forever” to the creep-steppin’ groove of “To The Top” (which hilariously and ironically does NOT go as its name suggests – in fact, I’m not sure WHERE it went, which is why I strangely loved it; it just moved on. No bridge, just a ride-off-into-the-sunset kinda head-bopper) it was nothing short of a reunion with the maestro that is Maurice.

The final track, “Before The Day You Were Born” confused me at first with its bizarre key changes and unconventional melody in verse. I was wondering if I was about to be submerged in a menagerie of mixolydian madness like Miles Davis did in “All Blues” or The Beatles in the outro portion of “Hey Jude”. Yet and still, he brought it all back with a beautiful repeat chorus that made me want to sit with my best friends, side-by-side, arms around shoulders & necks as we rocked together like the cast singing Paul Williams’ “You Give A Little Love” in the finale of the musical “Bugsy Malone”.

[Scene from “Bugsy Malone”. I do not own the rights to this clip.]

The real star of the show (to me, mind you) was Track #10 – “Young Hearts”. “YOUNG HEARTS” OH-MY-GOD!!! I wasn’t 2 seconds into the song before the piano, bassline and background vocals had me gushing and shoulder crunching with my fists pumping high (Those chord progressions just slay me. They’ve always been my favorite). It was clear that this track was produced during the mid-80s, with the synthesized sound of horns reminiscent of Atlantic Starr’s “Armed & Dangerous” (also written and produced by Magician, oops, MAURICE White). When the bass-only break hit after the bridge and that bubble-gum doo-wop harmony reconvened, I couldn’t help but yell, “OH SHIT!” as I jumped out of bed, wounded body and all, to throw my hands up and sing along with that “Doooo doot-doot. Doot, doot. Doooo doot-doot. Doot, doot…”

Yes, I’ve had this song on repeat since it came on.

Is it my favorite from the list? Let’s just say that it immediately skyrocketed to my Top 10 Happy Tunes songs of all time. And it ain’t NEVUH gonna leave.

Manifestation is a must-have CD for any and all EWF/Maurice White fans. If not for the obvious – he’s no longer with us – then because of its generally spirit-lifting power. No, it doesn’t match the pound for pound might of his first solo CD, 1985’s “Maurice White”, but then again, it’s not supposed to. That album was planned and carefully, masterfully crafted. This is a collection of mysteries, suddenly discovered and strewn together. In that, I must say that it is excellence of its own existence.

Sadly, my one complaint is the same as is/was for anyone else that has purchased this download-only package from Amazon. The sound production, the quality, is horribly presented and is an infuriating disappointment to anyone who appreciates music. You would think that the people behind it would have taken the time to honor him by utilizing today’s great technology to replicate his intention when he originally recorded them. Trust me, its God-awful. If there was a physical CD to purchase, I would demand my money back and buy the disc. I converted the mp3 files to 128 kbps and made a CD to play in my car and that sounded worse than the original files! I turned the car speakers up to an unnatural level and toyed with the equalizer to little or no avail. I fear I’m going to have to convert it to 256 and try again. In the meantime, I just have to crank it up to 100% of my headphone’s volume capacity, sacrificing some of the quality.

But please, don’t let that discourage you. Until the production company realizes that their involvement was FUBAR, make the most of it. Once you find a way to look beyond this egregious error, you should achieve and receive the blessings within. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll walk away from that last track, catching your breath, feeling him say, “Don’t worry, I’ll always be with you, Ha’ mercy, listen to me y’all…”

This is an album best played and enjoyed in the company of someone who loves and appreciates his work and the legacy he created in the elements, Earth, Wind & Fire. It’s meant for you to smile, looking at your listening partner, while nodding in unspoken agreement: That dude is a mutha-fuckin’ genius!

And oh yeah, I know I said I wasn’t gonna cry. I did. Reese did that to me. He… …he’s got it like that.

If you’d like to purchase “Manifestation”, click here to order. And when/if you do get it, let me know how you liked it. I’m confident you will.

Miss you Maurice. I love you, my musical father…

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