Two new releases from the Legacy/Epic archives remember the R&B/crossover hits of LaBelle and the O'Jays, while the Right Stuff and Capitol Records have dipped into their vaults to create two more volumes in the soulful "Slow Jams" series.
PATTI & LaBELLE; "Lady Marmalade: The Best of Patti and LaBelle" (Legacy/Epic). * * * *
Get ready for a kick-your-shoes-off good time with the original divas of sound: Nona Hendryx, Sarah Dash and the incomparable Patti LaBelle.
All the best - from 1974 to 1980 - are included on this 16-song, 75-minute compilation. The second half of the tracks spring from Patti LaBelle's still-thriving solo career.
"What Can I Do For You?," "Take The Night Off," "Isn't It A Shame," "I Think About You" and "Joy To Have Your Love" are here. So are "Are You Lonely," "You Turn Me On," "Get You Somebody New" and, of course, the ever-popular title track "Lady Marmalade," a catchy song about a Creole hooker.
LaBelle, with its gritty, confrontational lyrics, was a forerunner of contemporary girl-groups like En Vogue, TLC, Jade and SWV. Unlike the demure singing groups of the '50s and early '60s, though, LaBelle reveled in its independent-woman status with honest, sassy and sometimes-vulgar lyrics championing the joys and pangs of womanhood. Its theatrical stage presence also helped win them legions of fans.
This Legacy compilation, part of its Rhythm & Soul series, is sure to bring back loads of memories for longtime fans - and win these original divas some acclaim from new ones as well.
THE O'JAYS; "Let Me Make Love To You" (Legacy/Epic). * * * *
All the classic slow jams and love songs by the three-man group from Philly are here: "Stairway to Heaven," "Now That We Found Love," "You Got Your Hooks in Me" and "Family Reunion." Of course, the title song, "Let Me Make Love To You," leads the pack on this 10-song, 48-minute collection.
Penned between 1972 and 1975, these tunes are classic Philadelphia. The pulse is quick, the arrangements drama-tinged and the lyrics frank and sensual. Propelled by Eddie LeVert's soulful balladeering, these songs of love won and lost endure.
The compilation, also part of Legacy's Rhythm and Soul Series, is well-conceived and well-executed. The songs and their groove speak for themselves. Expect hours of easy-listening, love-inducing pleasure from this one.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Slow Jams: The Timeless Collection, Volumes 3 & 4" (The Right Stuff/Capitol Records). * * *
Encased in a snappy pink jewel box, the purple disc with the funky celestial design showcases some of the best-loved slow jams from the 1970s up to the mid-'80s. "Timeless" is a fitting title for this nicely assembled package.
Tracks like "I Destroyed Your Love" by Special Delivery, "Penny For Your Thoughts" by Tavares and "Baby Come Close" by Smokey Robinson are real gems on Volume 3. But Volume 4, the companion disc, is a stronger collection by virtue of the songs' sheer magnanimity. Classics by the Isley Brothers ("At Your Best"), Teena Marie ("Young Love"), Frederick ("Gentle, Calling Your Name"), Confunkshun ("Make It Last") and Patti LaBelle ("Love, Need, Want You") make this fourth and final disc in the collection well worth your while. The concise liner notes give pertinent historical and current info on the selections and artists, some of whom have long since disappeared from the spotlight.
The discs are 49 and 51 minutes long, respectively. Each includes 11 tracks, the oldest being 25 years old, the youngest an even 10. Kevin "Slow Jammin' " James, creator of the Slow Jams Radio Show in Washington, D.C., provides intros for this timeless collection.
RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.