Earth, Wind & Fire hit their peak in 1975 with their multi-platinum album “That's the Way of the World,” excelling the band into absolute stardom with their hit title track and funky “Shining Star”. If you could have only one EWF release, this would be the best choice, and even better yet it has now been released on a quad hybrid SACD that also contains the follow-up 1976 album “Spirit.” Their powerful blend of funk and soul extends to the remainder of the album with no dull moments found within. That’s the Way of the World can easily be considered one of the strongest albums of the '70s and has been impeccably remastered by Michael J. Dutton for the Dutton Vocallian reissue label.
The band had a lot to live up to when they went back into the studio to record their 1976 album “Spirit.” They didn’t let fans down quickly spinning out more hits including “On Your Face” and the passionate funk classic “Getaway” plus the ballad “Imagination.” Philip Bailey soars in the upper range while Maurice White’s vision and message remains as positive and uplifting as ever. While fans may not have taken EWF's calls for unity to heart, they had no problem with their solid self-respecting spiritual grooves.
Backing vocals blast in from the rear speakers with the classic song “Getaway” as the SACD opens with the first album “Spirit.” Drums and guitars are spread across the front with keyboard parts placed in the back right channel. The impact of the quad mix is extraordinary, really opening up the song, giving each part plenty of space to breathe as they surround the sweet spot. Brass also punches from the back as the uplifting soulful funk of Earth, Wind & Fire shakes your booty with a steady drumbeat.
Remastering engineer Michael J. Dutton continues to produce excellent surrounding quad SACD’s. He pulls from the best available analog master tape, and I have never found a bad transfer on any of the dozens of quad discs I have purchased on his Vocallion label. The soulful track “Imagination” is yet another great example of Dutton’s remastering expertise, emanating excellent dynamics and a clean crisp sound. The clave strikes distinctly while vocals sore in the upper range, with horns and keyboard parts once again taking their spot in the rear channels.
The fantastic quality of the original recording and subsequent quad and stereo mixes absolutely accentuate this album. I rather enjoy the analog feel of this transfer and wager that quad enthusiast who had the analog equivalent back in the day will relish at the remarkable channel separation and overall transparency heard on this SACD.
Just like the changes of the melody and orchestration, and the differences in instrumentation between every song, listeners will likely enjoy the unique mixes that characterize each song. Simply put, the album is an absolute quad treat to listen to since original quad mixing engineers Don Young and Larry Keyes have incorporated subtle changes in placement of instruments across the tracks.
Powerful musicianship and songwriting are on demonstration on the funky and fusionesque song “Biyo” with the guitar solo ripping from the back left channel. Vibraphones tingle across the front speakers expanding the range of instruments heard on the first album “Spirit.”
The 10th track on the SACD marks the break between the first and second album titled “That’s the Way of the World.” Although listeners don’t have to jump up and change the vinyl record, instead one can just let the next classic hit “Shining Star” continue the funky journey. However, it is immediately apparent that one is listening to the next album. There is a subtle yet definable difference between the spectral tonality when moving from the first to the second album. Spirit offers a greater tingle and punch in the upper regions, which excites my ears, making it a zestier mix, leading to That’s the Way of the World sounding a bit flat in comparison. Still, having noted this difference, the quad mix created by Harold J. Kleiner and thistransfer to the digital realm of the second album is still remarkable, providing plenty of openness, analog warmth, and brilliance.
The next classic hit is the title track from the second album “That’s the Way of the World,” a soulful gem that absolutely sounds astonishing in quad. While sitting in the sweet spot listeners are bathed with vocals, strings, and horns from all directions. The snare crisply punches through while the base firmly fills the bottom. Check out the gritty guitar solo that sizzles from the back right channel which has been placed in a classic reverberant space with its slightly overdriven sonics, with a nuanced clarity which distinctly emits the sound of the pick striking the string. Vocals have also been placed into an ambient reverberant space that aids in defining the auralscape of the dreamy side of this classic soulful tune.
Earth Wind & Fire is much more than their hits when it comes to compositions. There are jazzy influences with incredible arrangements which in my opinion absolutely make them one of the best bands from the 1970s era. Yet, the songs that I grew up on and know so very well such as their classic “Reasons” are presented here revealing aspects to the song that high never have noticed when listening to the stereo mix. Certainly, much of this can be attributed to the increased separation across the quad space, allowing details to emerge that are buried in the sonically laden stereo version
Switching between the quad and stereo layers brings me back to the mix I grew up with. However, as one would expect, the SACD and the incredible transfer make this version the one to own and listen to for stereophiles. Like the quad mix, the stereo mix offers superb dynamics, genuinely nice channel separation and a transparency that far surpasses any CD, vinyl, and tape copy one may have on hand. May as well toss those old versions to the Wind, and let the Fire return them to the Earth. For absolute purists, the stereo mix will be your go to version, unless you were a quad collector back in the day. Note that the quad and stereo mixes are different to the point of additional reverb and fuller bass tones were clearly added to the quad version. Each version has its place, and I already am truly enthralled by the quad mix.
An absolute must have for quad and surround sound collectors. Also any Earth, Wind & Fire fans seeking a hi-res edition of these two classic funky soul albums should not miss getting their copy. This set of two albums has become my favorite quad reissue for 2020.
Released January 10, 2020.
Single Hybrid SACD with 4.0 quad and 2.0 stereo DSD layers plus Red Book CD layer.