Maze – 1979 – Inspiration

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.

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.

Tracks
A1 Lovely Inspiration 5:08
A2 Feel That You’re Feelin’ 5:33
A3 Call On Me 5:42
A4 Timin’ 5:02
B1 Welcome Home 5:08
B2 Woman Is A Wonder 7:20
B3 Ain’t It Strange 5:23
B4 Lovely Inspiration (Instrumental) 1:56

Review by Andrew Hamilton

Arguably Maze’s best album, hands down, Inspiration lives up to its grandiose title. Frankie Beverly’s compositions are executed to perfection by the seven-piece Maze ensemble: Atigunta Sun (drums), Wuane Thomas (lead guitar), Sam Porter (keyboards), McKinley Williams (vocals and percussion), Roame Lowry (vocals and congas), Robin Duhe (bass), and Frankie Beverly (rhythm guitar and lead vocals) — the originals. If you’re still down after listening to “Lovely Inspiration“‘s positive, glowing, shimmering praise to the Supreme One, you have some serious issues.

The fusion of R&B and reggae on “Feel That You’re Feelin‘” fueled its way up the R&B chart rungs; it remains a staple of Maze’s live show. It’s hard to get any better than “Call Me“, on which Beverly outdoes himself during a sensitive, tear-jerking confession of a man whose woman left him for another; the parting is handled with maturity, and the lamenting lover extends an invitation for his ex to call him if it doesn’t work out, or if she has a change of heart. Just as inspiring is the spirited “Timin’“, a rollicking number about keeping your spirits up because, if it doesn’t work out, it’s not solely your fault, it’s just a matter of timin’; why Capitol held back on this track is mystifying, since it has all the elements of a monster. That kick-happy beat is extended to “Welcome Home,” a tune about a lover returning after discovering the grass wasn’t greener on the other side of the fence.

Women Is a Wonder” is a slow tribute to women featuring some tantalizing guitar notes from Thomas; very nice, but a better bet if the supplementary vocals hadn’t been buried so deep in the mix. Captivating, tinkling chimes introduce the laid-back “Ain’t It Strange“; the vocal interaction between Beverly, Duhe, Williams, and Lowry are reminiscent of the Frankie Beverly & the Butlersyears.

An instrumental version of “Lovely Inspiration” ends the masterpiece.