the Buzz for July 26th, 2008


One of the finest performers in the history of the world is back with a pair of projects that beautifully illustrate the rich and inspiring depth of her range and artistry.


A little-remembered 1982 live recording which has just been restored and expanded for a first-ever release on compact disc, Live in Washington, D.C. finds American soul icon Patti LaBelle — whose powerful pipes have long since passed into legend — at the very zenith of her talent and ability. Still in the infancy of her solo career at that time, following her amazing run as the frontwoman of the pioneering ’70s trio Labelle (whose classic #1 hit “Lady Marmalade” — a performance of which anchors this live album — endures some three decades later), Miss Patti was stuck on tiny Philadelphia International Records (following an inconsequential three-album stint at Epic) and, in ’82, was still a full year away from finding and recording “If Only You Knew,” the tune that would eventually become her signature smash. LaBelle needed something concrete to help reignite the once-deafening buzz that used to surround her, and although few realized it at the time, this concert would end up being just the ticket. By mixing a handful of classics (like her showstopping take on Harold Melvin’s “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and a riveting (and flirting-with-definitive) cover of “Over the Rainbow”) with a series of songs that would become Patti staples (like “I Don’t Go Shopping” and “You Are My Friend,” which began as a random entry in Patti’s husband’s journal), she managed to get the entire music industry talking about her again. Now, at long last, you can hear for yourself a legend being (re)born.


In conjunction with the release of Live comes a new two-disc retrospective, The Essential Patti LaBelle, a thirty-track compendium of material from all three phases of Patti’s career (the ’60s, when she was with the Blue Belles; the ’70s, when she was the driving force behind Labelle; and the ’80s, when her solo career finally took off). To my immense frustration, several truly essential tunes are omitted from this collection (I’m devastated that none of Labelle’s classic collaborations with the late Laura Nyro — most notably sterling takes on Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me” or Carole King’s “Up on the Roof” — were deemed worthy for inclusion; same goes for Patti’s original 1989 version of “If You Asked Me To,” which would become a top ten smash for Celine Dion three years later), but enough classics are here — “Marmalade” and “If Only,” of course, plus “New Attitude,” “Love, Need, and Want You,” and her unforgettable 1986 duet with Michael McDonald, “On My Own” — to make this a worthwhile experience. (In addition, there’s also a previously unreleased track, “Mean Ol’ Man’s World,” for true fanatics.) If you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss was about regarding this brilliant woman, there has never been a better opportunity than this to crack the code.