Labelle – Back to Now
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.
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.)However, from 1971-1976 they
released six LPs (plus acting as Laura Nyro's backing group on her
cult-classic covers album
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
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.
Posted: November 23, 2008.