While it’s rather rainy and cold today, Wednesday was a different story as I left my office to grab a quick lunch at Casa de Chris before returning to the grind. Temps were low 70s, sun was shining brightly with a gentle breeze.
I was already in a pretty good mood when I heard a familiar conga and electric guitar opening. I smiled and got comfortable in the driver’s seat as Maze and Frankie Beverly’s “While I’m alone” got me home smooth and chill-like.
Having been on the music scene for close to 35 years, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly (the band’s official title) have given R&B/Soul/Jazz lovers the world over plenty of great studio albums while their reputation as the one of if not the tightest live acts in the game grows stronger each year.
While music is timeless when it is good, there are certain songs/singers/bands you identify with a certain season. Maze and Frankie Beverly to me will always mean Spring, Summer and early Fall – Their music brings out the airy, breezy good times with longer days and various outdoor activities, helping one get over the winter blues, which if you live in the Northeast is as real as can be.
Even their songs about love lost are incredibly upbeat and bouncy. “While I’m alone” is clearly opining for a one-night stand or casual sex arrangement to become more – “caught feelings,” if you will. “The Morning After” is pretty much the same deal, but a little more settled with a smooth jazz vibe. And their two signature “cookout classics” are songs that aren’t exactly the most positive of subjects.
“Can’t Get Over You,” on 1989’s Silky Soul album is pure regret at it’s finest. The ultimate “Damn, I DO miss her.” Yet and still you can hear many an older black man swaying in his lawn chair or dancing with his wife near the picnic table singing “I know I brought it on myself, I don’t hold blame to no one else…”
And that brings us to their most famous song. Essentially a studio cut thrown in to help balance out the legendary Live in New Orleans album, “Before I Let You Go” peaked at number 13 on the R&B charts in 1981, and in the years to come, it would be the ultimate party starter at every cookout, wedding, birthday party and social get-together imaginable. It talks about the finality of a relationship that like most do, start of sweet but end pretty sour. Even with that, there still seems to be a joyous nature in letting go, and the song’s incredible percussion and guitar play illustrate that clearly.
The formula for Maze and Frankie Beverly is pretty simple – make good music that people will have a good time listening to. Almost everyone I know has a Maze song for every moment possible. Late afternoon and early evenings while chillin out on the porch or deck? “Happy Feelings” or “Golden Time of Day” are interchangeable.
Need a song to celebrate the feminine wonders “Below the Mason-Dixon line…down there where the girls are fine”? “Southern Girl” does the trick.
If you’re coming out of a funk and just have the feeling that everything is going to work itself out? “Back in stride again.”
Frankie Beverly and Maze are kind of like Adult Contemporary R&B’s version of the iPhone – they definitely have an application for just about anything. In warm weather anyway.
That’s not to say you can’t listen to their stuff year-round, but in order to get the full essence of what Maze as a band and as a Black cultural icon means, it should be 70 degrees at around 6:45 p.m. any night from late March to mid-September.