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Album Review

Given the state of reunion albums, the average rate of success is usually one in ten if that; ergo, Labelle's first offering since 1976's Nightbirds could have been a stone disaster. It's not; in fact, it's far from it. The trio of Nona Hendryx, Patti Labelle, and Sarah Dash assembled a crew of kickin' producers with real pedigrees: Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Lenny Kravitz (is there a bigger retro boss?), Kit Lambert and Hendryx. The one nod to the kids (who probably won't get it anyway) is the Wyclef Jean-produced leavin' jam "Rollout," on which he appears (why on earth he felt he needed to place AutoTune on a Labelle record is beyond imagination — it's irritating to vintage fans). That isn't to say this is a set of old-school sounding production, but more that the updated sound feels more organic and warm, and thank God the disc is not loaded with guest appearances or ham-fisted duets. Some cuts are a little obvious, such as "The Truth Will Set You Free," with its 1970s anthemic socio-political "us" vibe — but if 2008 isn't the year of African-American empowerment, with Barack Obama being elected the 44th president of the United States, then there isn't one. Better are the drenched-in-strings soul groovers like "Candlelight" that opens the set. When the backing vocals kick in on the chorus and bridge, it's like it's 32 years ago! Yes, really. "Dear Rosa," with Ronnie Drayton on his subtle but funky wah-wah guitar phrasing, sets up a powerful anthemic tribute to Rosa Parks. Add that B-3 and it sends chills. Dexter Wansel arranged "Tears for the World," that features amazing vocal performances even if its lyrics leave a bit to be desired. The closing cut is Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets," produced by Lambert. This is a surprise, because it was actually recorded 38 years ago and features performances by the late Keith Moon on drums and the late Nicky Hopkins on piano! That said, it sounds seamless when juxtaposed with the other tracks on the set. Vocally, this trio hasn't slipped a notch — particularly Labelle. Indeed Back to Now exceeds expectations and will no doubt satisfy most fans of the trio's fantasies and hopefully — thanks to the ultra sleek "Rollout" — hook a few new ones to boot.

Biography

Formed: 1962

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '70s

The female trio responsible for the proto-disco funk classic "Lady Marmalade," LaBelle's outlandish space-age costumes and brash incorporation of rock & roll were a far cry from their early days as a typical '60s girl group, not to mention the later solo career of frontwoman Patti LaBelle. While Patti naturally seems like the focal point in hindsight, the group was also blessed with a talented and prolific songwriter...
Full bio
Back to Now, LaBelle
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