Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
  And It Don't Stop
  Book Reports
  Is It Still Good to Ya?
  Going Into the City
  Consumer Guide: 90s
  Grown Up All Wrong
  Consumer Guide: 80s
  Consumer Guide: 70s
  Any Old Way You Choose It
  Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
Xgau Sez
  And It Don't Stop
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  NAJP Blog
  Rolling Stone
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
Web Site:
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell:
  Carola's Website
CG Search:
Google Search:

Labelle [extended]

  • Labelle [Warner Bros., 1971] C
  • Moon Shadow [Warner Bros., 1972] C
  • Pressure Cookin' [RCA Victor, 1973] B
  • Nightbirds [Epic, 1974] A-
  • Phoenix [Epic, 1975] C
  • Chameleon [Epic, 1976] B-
  • Winner in You [MCA, 1986] B
  • Back to Now [Verve Forecast, 2008] Choice Cuts
  • Live in Washington, D.C. [Philadelphia International/Legacy, 2008] Dud

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Labelle [Warner Bros., 1971]
I find this group's mystique mysterious. Unlike most girl groups they boast a lady-soul front woman, but so do the Sweet Inspirations. They can trade leads like the Temptations, but rarely bother. They have their own songwriter, but she hasn't written any good songs. And though I too prefer their style of upward mobility to the Supremes', it's mostly aura--a matter of costuming and melodrama. I like what they do with "Wild Horses"--maybe the way to save that overstated metaphor is to overstate it some more. But too often they change the beauty of the melody until it sounds just like an op-e-ra. C

Moon Shadow [Warner Bros., 1972]
Nine songs--six by Nona Hendryx, one by Sarah Dash, and one each by Peter Townshend and Cat Stevens. The latter two lead off each side. And are easily the pick of the record. Cat Stevens. C

Pressure Cookin' [RCA Victor, 1973]
This certainly is a drastic improvement, although because Nona Hendryx still has trouble writing discernible melodies it demands more concentration than it's worth. What's changed is the arrangements--the backing musicians, especially keyboard honcho Andre Lewis (although each of the others puts a mark on at least one cut), achieve a jazz r&b that gives the voices (all of them) room to groove. Patti LaBelle pulls out all the stops dynamically, but she also puts them back in--there's drama as well as declamation here--and on "Hollywood" and "Let Me See You in the Light" Hendryx gives her some lines. The covers don't hurt either--whoever had the idea of segueing from Thunderclap Newman to Gil Scott-Heron did justice to this noble group concept, and Stevie Wonder proved himself a true friend. B

Nightbirds [Epic, 1974]
Not all pretentious records are even difficult and many fewer are worth the trouble. This is both. In the past I've found myself unmoved by Patti LaBelle's high-nosed histrionics, but Allen Toussaint grounds her (and Nona and Sarah) in a funk that's just right, more modernistic and mechanical than he usually favors. And for once there are songs. Three of Nona Hendryx's four could be called tunes, Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan's "Lady Marmalade" is great synthetic French-quarter raunch, and Toussaint's own "All Girl Band" is unautobiographical and more charming for it. A-

Phoenix [Epic, 1975]
Maybe if Patti came a little more like the falling rain and a little less like a water main these songs about quasars and amazing birds wouldn't sound so gushy. Exception: "Far As We Felt Like Goin'" which Nona Hendryx didn't write. C

Chameleon [Epic, 1976]
Patti emotes from up on the roof, David Rubinson masterminds some heavy funk, and Nona climaxes each side with a motto--"Nobody seems to care when they've got their share of the pie" and "Going down to your river." You guess whether "pie" or "river" refers to pussy. B-

Patti LaBelle: Winner in You [MCA, 1986]
No previous crossover diva has purveyed such an out-and-out fabrication. Tina's weathered sexpot, Whitney's soulful yuppie--these are credible plays on credible personas. But though Patti is managed by her longtime husband and advised by her longtime son, she nevertheless keynotes her multiplatinum bid with a tribute to the loneliness of the soulful yuppie, written by yet another successfully married couple but inspired I'm sure by one-cut-stand Michael McDonald (cf. Tina meets Bryan, Aretha meets George, and I bet Whitney trades Jermaine in on Phil Collins or somebody next time). Then again, Patti doesn't start out with such surefire goods--her abrasive nasality has always kept her reputation cult. Which is why it's just as well for Patti that Richard Perry overwhelms the eight other producers: beats and tunes kick in till you could care less what organ she's singing through. B

Back to Now [Verve Forecast, 2008]
"Roll Out" Choice Cuts

Patti LaBelle: Live in Washington, D.C. [Philadelphia International/Legacy, 2008] Dud