Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

"They're back." That slogan heralds the Crusaders' first new album in 20 years, "Rural Renewal." Set for release worldwide March 4, the PRA/Verve set features original members Joe Sample (keyboards), Wilton Felder (sax), and Stix Hooper (drums).

Lead single "Viva de Funk" (targeted at U.S. smooth jazz and urban radio) and the title track prove that the boys are back in town, recapturing that same old feeling with their signature horn mix, percussive piano, and body-moving melding of jazz and soul. Honorary Crusaders saddling up for the mission include Eric Clapton, Ray Parker Jr., Freddie Washington, and gospel's Donnie McClurkin (who does a strong turn on "A Healing Coming On" with the Sounds of Blackness).

Sample is quick to point out that "Rural Renewal" is more about picking up where the group left off than a reunion. "The four of us [including former member Wayne Henderson, who left in 1975] actually met 10 years ago about doing another album," says Sample, who also records as a solo artist with PRA/GRP. "But we decided not to do it, because we were looking at it as a reunion. A reunion to me meant we were simply going to rehash what we had done, and I didn't want to do that. Ten years later, Wilton, Stix, and I realized that a lot of what prompted us to become musicians in the first place was gone, things we loved like the Staple Singers, Marvin Gaye. So we decided not to have a reunion but to do a continuation of what we loved."

Felder adds, "Like Joe, I recognized the void. The musicianship of most musicians trying to play Crusaders' music was not there. The only way we could get the real Crusaders music was to get back together and play it the way we feel it and hear it."

Hailing from southeast Texas, the Crusaders evolved from the Swingsters and the Modern Jazz Sextet in the 1950s into the Jazz Crusaders in the '60s. Dropping "jazz" from their moniker, they hit their stride in the '70s with such fan-pleasers as "Keep That Same Old Feeling" and "Street Life" while on the ABC/Blue Thumb and MCA rosters.

The members also backed acts, together and individually, including Gaye, Steely Dan, and Joni Mitchell, and the Crusaders' rich catalog has provided the backdrop for a diverse array of contemporary artists' projects, including 2Pac, Queen Latifah, Ice Cube, Tyrese, and Destiny's Child.

As the release of "Rural Renewal" approaches, Crusaders performances are being lined up. A May 4 appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and one at the Hollywood Bowl Aug. 17 as part of the JVC Jazz Festival are already booked.

While Felder, Sample, and Hooper hope the album sells well, all are busy with various solo projects: Sample is working on another set, Felder expects to release his own solo album later this year, and Hooper is operating his own label from his Seattle home base.

Whatever happens musically for the trio, it will always be about the feeling. "The music industry is now run by businessmen," Sample says. "Everything is manipulated; nothing is a natural flow. What we missed is music's spiritual, rhythmic, and soulful value and getting people to feel that. It has meant a lot to us to do this album."





Excerpted from the March 1, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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