The idea of bringing together the collective works of Labelle the group and the individual constituent parts as solo singers is a laudable one and the extremely authoritative notes by both Prashod Ollison and label owner David Nathan (fourteen pages in total) are equally praiseworthy, and from the outset this writer would like to stress that there is absolutely no questioning the value for money aspect of the extremely generous timing. However, from a strictly logistical point of view, there is one issue that grates with this otherwise commendable re-issue, and that is in attempting to cram so many songs onto two CDs and editing a large number of these, something has been lost for the soul connoisseur who appreciates the original longer versions. In particular, given that it covers the disco era, some of the key classic full-length 12″ versions of soulful disco classics by Patti Labelle in particular only feature in severely truncated form and that is a pity and something of a missed opportunity when such versions are highly sought after and attract a wider public. For that reason alone, a full five stars cannot be awarded, but otherwise the music within is impeccable.
That caveat aside. there is much to savour and an early representative of the debut Labelle album, ‘Pressure cookin’, features an inventive medley in, ‘The air/The revolution will not be televised’, which is a revelation to these ears and probably years ahead of its time, which is presumably why it sunk without trace in 1973. It is just a pity that we do not have the opportunity to hear other examples of this lesser known and harder to find album, and hopefully Soul Music might see fit to re-issue the album in its entirety. The music then moves on to the more familiar hues of, ‘Nightbirds’ and the huge pop/disco hit, ‘Lady Marmalade’, with those ever so suggestive French chorus lyrics. Another three songs feature from that Allen Toussaint production. Funky and ever so catchy, ‘Get you somebody new’, features disco rhythm guitar, horns and some terrific call and response background vocals from the ladies that elevates this particular dance number well above the era norm. Rounding off the first CD, singer Sarah Dash is possibly the least known of the individuals as a leader, to this writer at least, and so the Tom Moulton 12″ mix of, ‘Sinner man’, from 1978 comes as a very pleasant surprise and is even complemented by the original 12″ b-side John Luongo re-mix at a more leisurely mid-tempo in, ‘(Come and take this) candy from your body’. Full marks for including these gems.
The very end of CD 1 and first part of CD 2 is devoted to the solo recordings of Nona Hendryx and these are quite separate in style from the rest. Chronologically, they were recorded in the early-mid1980s when technological innovations meant that drum beats and synthesizers were in vogue. Secondly, Hendryx had become a regular background and even featured soloist with the Talking Heads and this had unquestionably informed her musical outlook. Key tracks from this selection include the techno-synth drum heavy beats of, ‘B-Boys’, an early 1980s disco not disco underground success and, ‘Keep it confidential’, both of which are single edits.
Thereafter, the remainder of the second CD is devoted entirely to the epic recordings of Patti Labelle. Apart from the aforementioned comments on the shortening of length, Patti Labelle became such a productive and successful solo artist that bringing together the Epic and Philadelphia International recordings and placing those all onto a 2 CD anthology might have been a more cohesive option. Having said that, the group Labelle would be nothing without the participation of the irrepressible diva Ms. Labelle and there is an obvious logic to coupling together the work of the group and singer respectively. Again, several edits are made in order to have as many examples as possible of Patti’s solo work. Two stunning dance winners are the Latin-disco of, ‘Teach me tonight (me gusta tu baile)’, with a piano vamp made in heaven, and especially one of the best ever soulful disco numbers in, ‘Music is my way of life’. Further listening joys include the uptempo and ever so soulful, ‘It’s alright with me’, while the balladry that would come to be the Labelle hallmark at Philly International in the mid-1980s and beyond is hinted at on, ‘You are my friend’, even though at the time it only charted in the lower échelons of the charts. However, her undoubted pop crossover potential is evident for all on, ‘Love and learn’. For more classy dancefloor action, the bass heavy stomper, ‘Release (the tension)’, fits the bill to perfection.
Conceptual limitations aside, this is nonetheless a strongly recommended anthology for anyone who has an ounce of interest in the soulful of dance music in the late 1970s through to the early 1980s and with so much pertinent information in the inner-sleeve notes, is highly likely to stimulate the mind to explore the group and individual singers in even more depth.