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"WILD YEARS-THE MUSIC & MYTH OF TOM WAITS" BY JAY S. JACOBS

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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Record Reviews > Labelle

MUSIC REVIEWS

Labelle Back to Now (Verve) 

You wouldn't normally expect there to be that much expectation for the reunion of a band which broke up about 30 years ago after doing six mostly-ignored and long-forgotten albums on three labels - all of which spawned a total of only one hit single.

Of course, that one hit single in this case was "Lady Marmalade" - a baby gorilla of a hit and still an acknowledged classic.  In fact, the song is so respected that earlier in the decade it was covered by an all-star team of current divas (Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya and Missy Elliot) for the popular movie Moulin Rouge.  It also says something that even with all that talent, the remake couldn't touch the original.

Then again Labelle was never just a normal short-lived singing group.  First of all, the band members - Patti Labelle, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx - had been recording together for years as Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles throughout the 60s (scoring hits like "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman") before evolving into the disco-fied new generation girl group named after the lead singer.

However, from 1971-1976 they released six LPs (plus acting as Laura Nyro's backing group on her cult-classic covers album Gonna Take a Miracle), all of which disappeared without a trace.  Even "Lady Marmalade" couldn't give them a hit album - I bet very few people could even name the album on which the song originally appeared.  (It was called Nightbirds, for the record.)

In the years after the breakup, Labelle became a solo star.  Dash and Hendryx - while never becoming as big as their bandmate - each released quite a few respected solo platters themselves.

Now, the three old friends (who have occasionally worked together since their breakup) have gotten back together for a new go-round as Labelle, 32 years after their final group LP Chameleon.  It creates enough of a buzz that longtime fans Lenny Kravitz and Wyclef Jean contribute songs - as do Patti Labelle's old Philly International compadres Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who have returned to songwriting duty for this project.

The album starts out smoking with the gospel-flecked rouser "Candlelight" - written by Hendryx (always the band's best songwriter) and produced with verve by Kravitz.  Kravitz also helms the swayingly retro and gorgeous "Superlover."

The Gamble/Huff composition "Tears for the World" (which was also co-written by Labelle) also has an old school smoldering charm - though Gamble's production of the hard-driving (dig that guitar!) funk-fest "Truth Will Set You Free" is a high point on a consistently good disk.

Perhaps the best song is the sweet devotional "Dear Rosa," a tribute to civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

The only song that feels a little out of place is "Roll Out," the wannabe hit single fashioned by Fugee leader Wyclef.  The song is fine, but it sounds too modern, too sterile and too busy for this collection.

The final song - a somewhat surprising cover choice of Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets" - turns out to be a recording made over thirty years ago - with the Who's late drummer Keith Moon on the skins.  While it is far from my favorite Porter song - and one that has been covered way too often - this is an interesting choice because of two things.  First of all, it is a historic recording which should not have been left in the vaults.  Secondly, the song sounds shockingly organic to the newer stuff.  The new songs' vocals compare very favorably to this older track, showing that Labelle haven't lost a step after all these years.

Jay S.  Jacobs

Copyright 2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: November 23, 2008.

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Copyright 2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: November 23, 2008.