After producing an astonishing number of top-selling singles during their peak years in the 1970s, the Stylistics, featuring founding members Airrion Love and Herb Murrell along with Eban Brown and Jason Sharp, are still thrilling audiences today.
Late last year these champions of Philadelphia-style smooth soul music released a new album, "That Same Way," that captured their classic approach with a bunch of new romantic songs, including the sweet ballad "Painted In The Sky" by Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White.
"My favorite song was given to us by Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire," says Airrion Love. "It's a great song and very much in an Earth, Wind & Fire ballad groove." Other standouts include "Laughing Out Loud (LOL)" and the title track.
You Are Everything … Stop Look Listen … People Make the World Go Round … Betcha By Golly Wow … Break Up To Make Up … I’m Stone in Love With You …You’ll Never Get to Heaven …
'The Stylistics have always been noted for songs covering the whole spectrum of love, whether it's about being in love, being out of love, being hurt by love, or falling in love again, so we decided to name the album after the track 'That Same Way,' " he continues. "We felt that title was basically telling everyone that we are the same Stylistics - that we're doing things the way we've always done them in the past, but this time with a fresher approach."
Formed in the late 1960s, the Stylistics were one of soul music's most consistent hit makers. After becoming a local hit, the group's first single, "You're A Big Girl Now," attracted the attention of a major label. It cost around $500 to record, and their manager at the time sold the rights for $10,000. "We never saw a dime of any money he got," Love recalls. "It's an old story every group can relate to."
Under the guidance of acclaimed producer Thom Bell, their debut album, hailed as a Philly soul masterpiece, contained a feast of memorable tracks by Bell and co-writer Linda Creed, including "You Are Everything," "Stop Look Listen," "People Make the World Go Round" and "Betcha By Golly Wow," (which Prince later covered in 1996). It was a combination of lead vocalist Russell Thompkins Jr.'s smooth falsetto, their rich harmonies and lush symphonic production that brought the group stardom.
* The Stylistics perform at 7 p.m. Friday in the MACC's Yokouchi Pavilion and A&B Amphitheater. Maui's The Shamroks soul covers band will open. Tickets are $35, $45 and $55 (reserved seating & premium tables available), plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org. A VIP meet-and-greet package is also available. Gates open at 6:30 p.m.
"I remember hearing the songs the first time, and they were beautiful songs; I would get goosebumps," Love says. "We had five songs released as successful singles from the first album."
Their follow-up, "Round Two," was equally as memorable, including the classics "Break Up To Make Up," "I'm Stone in Love With You" and a cover of "You'll Never Get to Heaven." And then the third album, "Rockin' Roll Baby," earned them their first No. 1 crossover hit, "You Make Me Feel Brand New."
When Bell decided to stop working with the Stylistics in 1974, the group's fortunes diminished. It wasn't until 1981 when they returned to their Philadelphia roots, joining Gamble & Huff's Philadelphia International Records, that they scored their first U.S. hit in years with the haunting "Hurry Up This Way Again."
Then in 2000, their lead singer suddenly left the group in the midst of a concert. "It was such a difficult time; I thought of quitting," says Love.
With their future in doubt, the musicians fortunately found the perfect replacement in former Delfonics' vocalist Eban Brown, who sounds remarkably like the group's founding singer, Russell Thompkins.
"I look at it like a blessing," Love reports. "Russell is definitely the voice of the Stylistics. Nothing can take that away, but we all played a major part, like intricate puzzle pieces, and together we made the complete picture. A lot of people say Eban sounds like a younger version of Russell. We were lucky."
Still sounding fresh today, their songs have appealed to successive generations and have been perpetuated through sampling by various artists including Jay Z, Mary J. Blige, Naz, Busta Rhymes and Jennifer Lopez.
"That naturally created some curiosity," Love notes. "People who never heard of the Stylistics will listen to those songs and go back and research our music."
So what does he think has contributed to their longevity?
"We definitely have a guardian angel," he says. "A couple of years ago someone asked me, 'How successful is the group?' I think we're more successful now. Coming up in the '70s we were just a part of that era. But now people are coming to see something iconic. People still love to hear those love songs and the way we expressed these emotions musically."
One would not normally associate Paul McCartney's music with surfing, but when the ex-Beatle saw an amazing film clip by acclaimed surf director Jack McCoy, he was moved to offer the filmmaker some music never heard before.
McCartney's unreleased song will be heard in the Hawaii premiere of McCoy's short "Blue Sway," which screens at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Maui Film Festival's Celestial Cinema.
The legendary musician also gave permission for one of his trippier tunes from his ambient Fireman project to be employed in a beautiful underwater scene in McCoy's new surfing feature "Deeper Shade of Blue," which screened last night at the festival.
A legend in the world of surf docs - with innovative films like "Storm Riders," "Occy," "Bunyip Dreamin' " and "Blue Horizon," McCoy views music as an essential element in his projects.
"The music is really important to me; it's 50 percent of the whole gig," says the Australia-based director. "I listen to hundreds of different songs to find the right emotion I'm looking for. I have a big-wave sequence (in "Deeper Shade of Blue") in Tasmania with a Foo Fighters song, and Dave Grohl is screaming 'Free Me' as the guys are getting fly-swatted."
With other tracks in his new film by artists like Coldplay and Jack Johnson, what led him to McCartney's music?
"I read an article that Paul McCartney had come out with an album by a guy named Youth as The Fireman," he explains. "I started buying copies and giving them to friends, saying, 'Listen to the new Beatles' album.' A couple of the songs were very Beatle-esque. And I ended up wanting to use this real cruisy Fireman song where he sings, 'Is this love?' "
The mission to secure screening rights, which ultimately led to a meeting with the musical icon in London, was aided by a friend, legendary producer Chris Thomas.
"Chris assisted George Martin on (the Beatles) 'White Album,' he worked on Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon, and with Elton John and the Sex Pistols," McCoy says. "I showed him the sequence of the underwater stuff with the music, and he said, 'I'll give it to Paul.' About six months later, Chris calls and says Paul likes it, and he has another song and wants to know if you're interested. Next thing I know, I get a note from Paul McCartney, 'I loved what you did with the Fireman (music), very cool, would you be interested in an unreleased song called 'Blue Sway'?
"Chris and I traveled to Paul's offices in London where we met for about an hour and a half. The ("Fireman") clip is probably one of the greatest things I've ever done. And 'Blue Sway' is a special clip I just made for Paul, which will be on the big screen on Sunday night."
"I think Ron has got one of the purest seams of melody, that he has access to exclusively, since Paul McCartney," Elvis Costello praises Canadian musician Ron Sexsmith, in the new documentary "Love Shines," which screens at 5 p.m. Friday in the MACC's Castle Theater.
Sexsmith has many celebrity endorsers besides Costello - they include Paul McCartney, Elton John, Steve Earle, Sheryl Crow, Bono, Radiohead, and Coldplay's Chris Martin, who sang with him on the track "Gold in Them Hills."
While hailed by peers and critics, Sexsmith has had limited commercial success. "Love Shines" sheds some light on this puzzle, focusing on the artist recording his latest album, "Long Player Late Bloomer," teamed with legendary, Maui-based producer Bob Rock (Metallica, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi).
With dreams of scoring a commercial hit, Sexsmith recounts his humble beginnings and the long journey to gain success. A stellar cast of Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, Feist, actor Kiefer Sutherland and U2 producer Daniel Lanois provide commentary.
"Not a lot of people have the gift that Ron has," notes Lanois. Steve Earle adds: "There are only a handful of songwriters who come up with fairly original melodies, and I mean fairly original melodies. But Ron has melody after melody after melody, and it makes me jealous, absolutely."
Reviewing Sexsmith's album featured in the new doc, the Chicago Sun Times praised: "That Sexsmith is a genius is not difficult to defend. In fact, he's almost too good, too perfect. The melodies on 'Long Player Late Bloomer' are so rich and sweet and beautifully shaped they constitute not just a presentation of beauty, but an outright assault."
Following his remarkable performance at the MACC's Republik reggae festival on Sunday, Matisyahu appears in a screening of new short "Run & Return" at 10 p.m. Saturday in Castle Theater before "Burning Man."
This intriguing 15-minute doc captures the Hasidic Jewish reggae star as he prepares to record his latest album, "Live at Stubb's II," with the brilliant Dub Trio. Mixing live footage with interviews, it features Matisyahu reflecting on his career and the spiritual foundation of his music, plus comments by his bandmates. Great music, including a celebratory "One Day," and even a little crowd surfing by the artist are included.
The British coming-of-age comedy "Submarine" features a new soundtrack composed by Alex Turner of the popular U.K. band Arctic Monkeys. Praised by the Wall Street Journal as "wonderfully funny and subversively affecting," it screens at 8 p.m. Friday at the Celestial Cinema.
The Guardian noted: "It is touching, sweet and, most importantly, very funny," while the Los Angeles Times praised its director - "writer-director Richard Ayoade has the knack. A fresh and inventive cinematic voice, he's taken a subject that's been beaten half to death and brought it miraculously to life in his smart and funny debut feature."
As to Turner's music, which has been released as an EP, a BBC review concluded: "five swoony songs, sung beautifully."
And finally, legendary mythologist Joseph Campbell's influential concept of "the hero's journey" gest updated for a contemporary audience in "Finding Joe," screening at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Castle Theater. Notable commentators include Deepak Chopra, educator Sir Ken Robinson and Gay Hendricks, and some Maui folks - inspirational author Alan Cohen, surfer Laird Hamilton and drummer Mick Fleetwood.