New Smooth Soul Survivor - "Shining Star"

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    ewfThe discography of Earth Wind and Fire is generously scattered with smooth sumptuous gems that automatically qualify as Smooth Soul Survivors.  Left right and center of the best of them was band leader Maurice White and the inspiration he gleaned for one of their most beloved singles, ‘Shining Star', came while walking under the star-filled skies that formed a canopy above the mountains around Caribou Ranch, Colorado.  It was a location popular with him as both a recording site and retreat during the '70s and the song he conceived there, and which he co-wrote with Phillip Bailey and Sonny Burke, went on to be one of the standout tracks of the long player ‘That's The Way Of The World'.  The disc has been described as Earth Wind and Fire's best ever and was in fact written as the soundtrack to the movie of the same name.  Although it starred Harvey Keitel, was produced by Sig Shore of Superfly fame and is still vaunted as one of the most accurate portrayals of the music business ever made, it proved to be a flop.  Fortunately for Earth Wind and Fire this was in complete contrast to the success of the album which rocketed to number one on the R & B charts of early 1975.  It moved the band from it's a cult following to being a mainstream act and in many ways set the scene for the illustrious career that Earth Wind and Fire went on to enjoy.

    ‘Shining Star' is a hugely covered number and one for which a fascination continues to this day.  Recent revivals have seen it remixed as a frenetic dance cut by DJ Jin Asakusa and featured on the 2002 Soul Source compilation ‘Earth Wind & Fire Remixes'.  In addition, a version by none other than Chaka Khan appears on the 2007 tribute CD, ‘Celebrating The Music Of Earth Wind & Fire' while a tribute of a different kind comes courtesy of ‘Smooth Jazz Plays The Hits of Earth Wind & Fire'.  This 1997 release finds guitarist Henry Johnson doing the song his way and given the affinity that contemporary jazz currently has with the Earth Wind & Fire songbook its not surprising that interpretations by both Brian Bromberg (from his 2006 ‘Wood II') and Rick Braun can also be found.  Braun makes it part of his ‘Yours Truly' album that he released in 2005 as the soundtrack of his life to date.  In the liner notes he recalls a career changing drive from Rochester, NY to Los Angeles and of ‘Shining Star' playing on the car radio.  Given the success that Braun subsequently found on the west coast it was a journey which turned out to be as memorable as the song itself yet, for some, the biggest memory of all will be drawn from prime time television.  The tune was immortalised in one hilarious segment of the hit TV comedy Seinfeld when Elaine Benes, the character played by Julia Louis Dreyfus, launched into a dance that became known as ‘The Elaine' and which haunted Benes from thereon.

    Consequently, for reasons many and varied, ‘Shining Star' is a superb Smooth Soul Survivor.

    By Denis Poole,

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