Patti Labelle shares the grown of 70’s funky diva’s as it were. Right up there with Aretha and Chaka. A Philly soul sister who’d started as the lead singer of the Bluebells,as well as almost marrying Temptations member Otis Williams,the group changed their name to Labelle. This trio of Patti,Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash started off backing up singer-songwriter Laura Nyro on her soul/R&B based 1971 album Gonna Take a Miracle. Several years later,the trio unleashed a major hit in “Lady Marmalade”,written by Allen Toussaint. It became a key number in ushering New Orleans funky soul straight into the disco era.
The trio began having creative difference,coinciding with their music declining in commercial success. After Hendryx suffered a nervous breakdown after a show in Baltimore,Patti decided to fulfill her own career and be a diplomat all at once by suggesting the trio begin perusing solo projects. Patti signed with producer David Rubinson,then working with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and who’d also helmed Labelle’s final 70’s album Chameleon. Patti Labelle’s self title solo debut came out in 1977. My favorite song on it, written by Motown’s Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, was called “Funky Music”.
A thick bass line starts off the song playing with a rocking verve about it. It’s soon totally accompanied by a slow crawling chicken scratch guitar. The drum then kicks in with with a medium tempo,snare heavy hit. Throughout the song,a round and bumping filtered “duck face” slap bass keeps a steady percussive vibe going. The horns on this song play in harmonized unison to the choruses and refrains. On the choruses,Patti is joined by a group of all star female backup singers for a strong gospel/soul choir. On the bridge,the drum starts swinging low on the cymbals before coming back up again before the song fades out.
Marrying Patti Labelle’s soul shouting dramatic soprano voice to the songwriting of Norman Whitfield was just about as ingenious as her groups pairing with Toussaint several years earlier. As the disco era was at it’s peak,Patti threw down a song that was raw and bass heavy funk as anything Sly Stone had done earlier in the decade. And the slow,punchy groove of it all really allowed the gospel joy always present in Patti’s voice to sour and groove high with the chunky bass/guitar/horn interaction. It’s one of the earliest and best examples of Patti Labelle giving up the funk during her solo career.
Filed under 1970's, chicken scratch guitar, David Rubinson, Disco, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Norman Whitfield, Patti Labelle, Philly Soul, slap bass
Obviously many classic soul lovers have been awaiting this for a very long time-finally Sarah Dash and the incomparable Nona Hendryx team back up with the now solo diva Patti Labelle for a full fledged reunion. ‘Back To Know’ features the production help of both “contempo” musicians Wyclef Jean and Lenny Kravitz along with old Labelle pals Gamble & Huff for this gutsy,funky soul fest-full of those high energy gospel shouts and harmony’s that Sarah,Nona and Patti can give us. All of the songs are excellent-even “Rollout”;the only cut obviously designed to “reach the kids” of the new millennium with it’s bass heavy hip-hop/pro-tools softwhere sound. Aside from that all of the music here could easily have been ripped from a late 70’s follow up to Labelle’s last album Chameleon (a classic more then worth hunting down);”Candlelight”,”Superlover” and “System” all explore the waters of soul,gospel drenched R&B and hardcore funk before each tune is out. Lenny Kravitz’ presence makes itself clear on “Truth Will Set You Free”,a tough funk rocker reminding us not only that Labelle were one of the earliest female groups to combine funk and rock but that none of that spark has faded with time or separation.
Even if the music world of today welcomes them the world Labelle are making a comeback in has changed dramatically. We’ve moved way beyond Marvin Gaye’s concerns about an “overcrowded land” with “fish full of mercury”;we have global warming,a disintegrating economy and paranoia about terrorism. In their tradition Labelle over up almost half an albums worth of messages songs,all with a different motivation-in “Tears For The World” documents in traditional funk message song style a litany of todays problems and our unexpected apathy towards them;that maybe showing feeling might bring people to act.”Dear Rosa” is a tribute to the late civil rights pioneer-thanking her for her efforts but somberly pointing out that she died before you dream was fully realized. On “How Long” and “Miss Otis Regrets” stories of triumph and wonder prevail and we as the listener really feel we’ve experienced something magical,and we have. It would be a pity if this was the last we heard of Labelle as a unit but if it is this would be a worthy,if long long delayed,goodbye.
Originally Posted On October 21st,2008
*Here is the original review on Amazon as well: