It’s one of the greatest dilemmas a wildly creative musician can have, when the brilliance they bring to legendary artists as a touring and/or studio sideman makes them so in demand that it’s almost impossible to find time for that long awaited, ever-stirring in the mind solo project.
No one understands it better than Grammy winning drummer Sonny Emory, legendary for his 18- year stint with Earth, Wind & Fire and on tour this year with Eric Clapton, whose jazz, pop and R&B “sizzle reel” over the past few decades includes Lee Ritenour, Bruce Hornsby, Jennifer Lopez, Stanley Clarke, David Sanborn, Bette Midler, Paula Abdul, Jean-Luc Ponty and Boz Scaggs. Beyond his adventurous backbeats, explosive grooves and otherworldly soloing, Emory is renowned for his visual effects during live performances that include stick twirling and back-sticking techniques.
Fortunately for the drummer and fans of pop, R&B and funk, Emory has found time in recent years to share his personal expressions in a variety of ways – first with his genre-defying group project Cache featuring Sonny Emory (which released the album Love is the Greatest in 2018, followed by the 2021 solo album Soul Ascension.
This prolific period culminates now with the launch of the high octane soul/funk/rock ensemble Sonny & THE7EVENTHTIME featuring the drummer’s longtime friend, bass great Sam Sims (Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Mariah Carey) and Emory’s equally multi-talented sons Nic Gibran on vocals and keys and master engineer Ni Emory, who also adds brings his prowess as a rapper and vocalist to the forefront on the self-titled album’s infectiously hypnotic closing track “Tip Toe,” which features Ni’s sly and clever freestyle flow and soaring hook over sizzling rock guitar and a trademark throbbing pocket created by Emory and Sims.
For fans wondering what the name of the band (and album title) refers to, Sonny offers a clue on the page dedicated to the group on his website: it was “inspired by a passage in the Bible and that positive message permeates throughout the recording. Though it’s up to the listener to figure out the exact Scripture, we can be sure it’s the latest expression of Emory’s deep spirituality and his eternal connection to EWF founder Maurice White, who always told him to “stay in the Light.”
Though eight of the nine songs on Sonny & THE7EVENTHTIME are written or co-penned by Emory, he chooses a very unusual “cover” song – “Eminence Front” from The Who’s 1982 album It’s Hard - to get the party rolling. Though the original track was a hit on the Mainstream Rock chart and is used as an intro song for the Dallas Mavericks, it’s probably obscure to the average listener – which makes this dynamic twist sound like a fresh, buoyant rock/funk track. It begins with strange, futuristic electronic sounds before heading into the exciting, seemingly nonstop groove featuring jangly rhythm guitar, punctuated by the crackling electric guitar of guest Theo Gkoutsidis.
Richard Smith, an internationally renowned guitarist, is a co-writer and contributor as well to two of the collection’s most memorable tunes. First is the compelling and deliciously edgy and raucous, socially conscious original funk/rock vocal anthem “All Ain’t Lost,” a showcase for sonny and Nic's powerful vocals in tandem with guest singers Alfreda Gerald and Cara Fears (who is also a co-write of the song).
The other is the album’s lead single, “Lost In Your Sunshine,” a sensual and sweetly romantic and rock/R&B power ballad expressing love and desire and the feeling of being totally immersed in passion for a significant other. This track marks the emergence of Emory as a compelling new R&B singer. With his sultry vocals setting the tone, Smith’s raging guitar takes the emotion to another level. With a lyric like “Your light simply guides my way,” the song could also be interpreted as a reflection of divine Universal love. The same could perhaps be said of “No Typical Love,” which is grounded in the light funk, mid-tempo late night candlelight and roses seduction zone (with a little sexy rock edged fire) but whose title certainly reflects a love connection that goes beyond the physical.
Speaking of spiritual concepts, one of the most fascinating tunes here is “Different Path Same Destination,” a vibrant, hard driving funk/rocker with celestial synth overtones that speaks to our common humanity regardless of our race, creed or religious journeys. After repeating the instantly engaging mantra/chorus at the start, Sonny sings, “We all want peace, baby, comfort love and nurturing inside/We may come from different ends of the earth, worship differently/Fundamentally, we all seek the same things…”
On a more personal level, in creating a project showcasing the talents of his sons, beyond the spiritual vibes, Emory is intent on sharing his devotion to, and the importance of, his family. The whimsical, mid-tempo R&B romp “Take Me Home” – featuring a playful plea from Nic to a bus driver to get him quickly to his destination – is inspired by the drummer’s feelings about touring so much, and being away from his sons. Likewise, the innocence of his two godchildren Zoe and Zia is the basis for the aforementioned “Tip Toe.”
On the cleverly titled “Ageless Body Timeless Mind,” Sonny & THE7EVENTHTIME enter into a unique sonic zone where dreamy vocals float atop exotic drumming and subtle rock edges, in the service of a love song that taps into both fleshly desires and the more sacred aspects of love.
The set is rounded out by the Sims-composed “Free State of Mind,” a high spirited, rock-soul anthem urging us to freeing ourselves from fear and isolation and embracing a life full of great people, chilling out, letting loose and having fun. From start to finish, the effervescent energy of the band and compelling tunes of Sonny & THE7EVENTHTIME make the perfect soundtrack for this daring adventure.