Sweetness played large.
Daryl Easlea 2009
It has long been argued that Maze, so vibrant and enthralling on stage, never made a truly definitive studio album. The band, the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and composer Frankie Beverly, came closest on this, their third album.
The group were formed in Philadelphia in 1970 as Raw Soul, by Beverly, a veteran of doo-wop groups from his early teens. Relocating to San Francisco the following year, Marvin Gaye became their champion and took them out on tour with him. It was his influence that got them their deal with Capitol Records.
Beverly has been dismissed as a Gaye copyist; this is clearly selling the man extremely short. He certainly shares a similar cosmic outlook, with spiritual and humanist concerns for his fellow man, but there is something more at play. Beverly encapsulates joy and wonder; a soft, kind, loving fellow away from the traditional 'lover man' template.
Inspiration is sweetness played large; the title track leisurely unfolds with Sam Porter's synths and Wayne Thomas' Ernie Isley- influenced guitar beautifully in the mix. Global love and harmony is very much the message here. The strut of US R&B Top 10 hit Feel That You're Feelin' highlights this bright hopefulness. Welcome Home has a hard-edged gospel influence while the sultry Woman Is A Wonder places womankind at the centre of the universe.
Inspiration reached the US Top 40 and the R&B Top 5. The album after, Joy and Pain, honed their formula and its 1981 follow-up, Live In New Orleans made them icons of the jazz-funk world. Beverly's honeyed optimism struck a chord in the UK, where Maze was a staple of all radio soul shows at this time. If you weren't there and are a big fan of Marvin Gaye or the Quiet Storm-era Smokey Robinson, then do have a listen. You'll be enthralled.