LABELLE: Back To Now (Label: Verve)

LABELLE: Back To Now

Another day, another group reforms to make new music or more money – depending on your cynicism levels. This time around the wonderful Labelle hit the comeback trail and though some reformations have hit pay dirt – musically and financially – I fear this one will fail, despite the presence of some heavy hitters. Apart from the three lovely ladies – Sarah Dash, Nona Hendryx and Patti herself- we have the combined talents of Lenny Kravitz, Wyclef Jean, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Dexter Wansel on hand, but sadly the sum of the end result is much less than the individual parts. The reason, or so it seems to me, is that the team (in various incarnations) have tried too hard to create big anthems – something to rival the albatross that is ‘Lady Marmalade’, and in consciously trying hard, they’ve failed. Though there are exceptions, big tunes (especially soul ones) aren’t created artificially; they can’t be put together by a committee or a computer programme. Often they just happen… witness ‘Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay’ – but that is to digress. What we have here is a decent if unspectacular album that doesn’t have the come-back-and-play-me-again factor. The biggest disappointment is that the collaborations with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff don’t work. The focus tune is meant to be ‘Tears For The World’ where the Philly meisters bring in old ally Dexter Wansel to handle the arranging. Yes, the instrumentation is mildly interesting, but the platitude-heavy song lacks a decent melody and the gravitas the lyric demands. Gamble on his own is in charge of ‘Truth Will Set You Free’ and ‘Without You In My Life’ but the former is too rocky for soul sensitivities while the latter seems to be an all too conscious attempt to recreate ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Know’. Elsewhere Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Candlelight’ is sharp in places, Wyclef Jean’s ‘Roll Out’ is typical of him, not Labelle, while Nona Hendryx’s tribute to Rosa Parks is way too heavy. That leaves an old 1970 left-over – a take of Cole Porter’s ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ – which indicates that the project ran out of steam after just nine tracks. The album’s only saving grace is Miss Patti’s voice. I know it’s not every soulster’s cup of Earl Grey but equally there are those (like me) who swear by it. They’ll need the album, but sadly, I feel they’ll be disappointed.
(BB) 2/5