Rural Renewal marks the return of the Crusaders, with keyboardist Joe Sample back in the fold after a successful 20-year solo career. Equally noteworthy, cofounder and trombonist Wayne Henderson declined to continue with the revamped Crusaders, which now consists of guitarist Dean Parks, trombonist Steve Baxter and bassist Freddie Washington along with original members tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder and drummer Stix Hooper.
The ensemble, which formed as the Jazz Crusaders in 1960, pretty much picks up where it left off 20 years ago, including working with its old producer, Stewart Levine. Sample's formidable compositional abilities are still at fore of the band-he penned most of the Crusaders' tunes through the years and wrote 75 percent of Rural Renewal-and because of his songwriting, the band is able to stretch out and improv like few in contemporary jazz. With everything old being new these days, especially with funk grooves, this seasoned band is in prime position to attract young ears and recapture older ones as well.
The title tune has Delta blues acoustic guitar played by none other than Eric Clapton, though it would probably be more suitable for Sample's solo CDs if not for the Crusaders' signature soulful tenor sax and trombone frontline. The rest of Rural Renewal is clearly a Crusaders recording and the keyboardist/composer along with Felder and Hooper crafted "Heartland," "Greasy Spoon" and "Lazy Sundays" to have that popular "same old feeling." Vocalist Donnie McClurkin and the Sounds of Blackness appear on "A Healing Coming On," and McClurkin croons "Sing the Song"; these two gospel/contemporary-jazz numbers have a good chance of becoming radio hits, which truly will indicate that the Crusaders are back.