Maze ‘Silk and Soul’ / ‘Back to Basics’ 2 CD (Robinsongs/Cherry Red) 4/5

mazeSoul group Maze received cult status in the early-mid 1980s in the UK with their music regularly featuring on soul radio stations and the all-dayer/nighter scene. The live recording ‘Live in New Orleans’ album is a prime contender for the greatest ever live performance from a soul artist (Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding would be among the rivals) with ‘Joy and Pain’ a true soul boy anthem. Their biggest UK hit entered the pop Top Forty in 1983 with ‘We are one’ and this was arguably the group’s strongest studio recording.
This new CD pairing of two albums captures the very end of the group’s career and one when they had changed labels from long-term stable mate Capitol to Warner Brothers. Both contain bonus cuts and, revisited at a distance in time, shape up surprisingly well with the first album, dating from 1989. the significantly stronger of the two and very much in the Maze tradition of quality mid-tempo songs and intimate ballads. The title track of ‘Silky Soul’ features an understated delivery by Frankie Beverly and was a classy mid-tempo number that also served as a tribute to the late Marvin Gaye and morphs briefly into, ‘What’s goin’ on’ with even some Marvinesque whoops. However, the main song on the album that became a number one R & B chart hit was ‘Can’t get over you’ and with a funk-tinged bass line and subtle use of keyboards, this was classic Maze terrain and in a minor key chord that the group perfected. A personal favourite of this writer with instrumentation ahead of its time is ‘Just us’ which features the catchiest of keyboard riffs and once again this is a fine mid-tempo vehicle for Beverly’s honey-toned voice. It fully deserved to be released as a single, but remained an album track of distinction.

The follow up album was some four years in the making and did not surface until 1993. It was to prove to be the very last recording by the group and did not live up to its predecessor in either quality, or commercial success. A first single, ‘Laid back girl’ was released, but this reached a disappointing number fifteen in the R& B charts. Something of the magic had gone and, quite possibly. the group would have been better served going out on a high with the 1989 album. In general, Maze were characterised by a sound that went counter to the prevailing in-fashion disco-funk sounds of glossy production and this was indeed part of their old-school charm. Over the period 1976-1986 Maze created their own personal path and this endeared them to soul fans both young and old. This reputation was cemented by one of the finest live sounds ever heard. It would be great to see and hear a re-issued version of the seminal ‘Live in New Orleans’ coupled with ‘Live in Los Angeles’ the latter which originally came out as both a double LP and in a separate video format.

Tim Stenhouse