Earth Wind & Fire, All 'N All

Slap a UFO on that publicity photograph and you've got Mothership Connection -- and heck, when I saw those pyramids I thought immediately of Parliament's hilariously overwrought "Prelude" from Dr Funkenstein -- but Maurice White continues to provide R&B of uncompromising quality even while studiously adopting Geo. Clinton's syncretic showmanship. This is funky without being stupid ("Serpentine Fire," "Magic Mind"). This is thoughtful without being superficial ("Be Ever Wonderful"). This is sensual without being phony ("Love's Holiday," "I'll Write A Song For You"). Every hook and groove is skillful and fast, the horns dance, the bass gets down and bouncy. The downside is the instrumentals; the little interludes are well-crafted, but they drag me out of the exultant place the vocals take me and disturb the album's flow like rocks in a great honey river, and "Runnin'"'s otherwise competent performance succumbs in spots to overly gratuitous experimentalism. These are, however, only small quibbles against the greatness of a true soul music landmark fusing R&B and samba into something greater than the sum of its parts, just as the album name might imply. The reissue adds three tracks, including a beguiling demo version of "Love's Holiday" that's actually good for something, but the original mix of "Runnin'" adds little and it's rare that I find a live version I like better than the album (and that goes double for "Brazilian Rhyme"). (Content: mild sensuality.)