OK, let's call Earth Wind and Fire's The Promise (Kalimba Records) a comeback -- especially considering that the group has spent the better part of the last decade as an R&B Lynyrd Skynyrd -- repackaging and remastering its greatest hits in various guises. The palpable shock of longtime bassist and songwriter Verdine White's recent resurfacing as a guest judge on American Idol (let's just say that the leather pants and white ruffled shirt went into the time capsule with him) is outweighed only by the fact that the band's new record picks up almost seamlessly where it left off, in the hit-making 1970s. There was a sunny effervesence to all of the group's many hits, and The Promise is a powerful whiff of nostalgia that's as summery and shimmering as any of the band's previous work. In part, that's because it features much of the gang that pumped out hits such as "Fantasy," "September" and "That's the Way of the World." Vocalists Maurice White (who announced in 2000 that he has Parkinson's disease) and Phillip Bailey sound as smooth as ever on new ballads "All in the Way" and "Wonderland," and the band churns out sounds as effortlessly slinky and funky as ever on numbers such as "Betcha" and "Wiggle." Throw in the generous dollop of classics ("Shining Star," "Let's Groove," "After the Love Has Gone") that they're sure to play live, and Earth Wind and Fire is certain to rekindle the flame with its legions of loyal fans.
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