Sarah Dash, Nona Hendryx, and Patti Labelle
have made the first Labelle disc in 32 years.
It’s fitting that when the women of the trailblazing trio Labelle finally decided to reunite, it was to pay homage to another groundbreaking black woman.
“When Rosa Parks died [in 2005], there was a song that I had written called ‘Dear Rosa,’ and I wanted Labelle to record that as a tribute to her,” says Nona Hendryx. “I think it’s important to make sure people don’t forget.”
The women of Labelle – Hendryx, Patti Labelle, and Sarah Dash – would never place themselves on the same plane as the civil rights pioneer. But what they accomplished in the ’60s and ’70s – morphing from a typical girl group into genre-bending queens of glam, soul, gospel, and rock – was in its own way an act of defiance, and it too should not be forgotten. (Their silver spandex spacesuit costumes are best left interred in the ’70s, however.)
Along with Tina Turner and Mother’s Finest, two other masters of rock-inflected funk, Labelle helped prepare the world for everyone from Lenny Kravitz to Santogold.
Memories of the “Lady Marmalade” ladies should be pleasantly jogged by today’s release of “Back to Now,” the first Labelle album in 32 years. It is a continuation of the group’s signature blend of styles, sublime harmonies, and social and political observations.
Although nine of the 10 tracks are new recordings, including “Dear Rosa,” the album does include several nods to the past. The dramatic funk rocker “System” and the optimistic ballad “How Long” were written by Hendryx just prior to the group’s amicable split in 1976. In their first studio outing in many years as well, Philly soul legends Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff add production finesse to several tracks. And a digitally remixed 1970 performance of the Cole Porter standard “Miss Otis Regrets” closes out the album.
“We thought about redoing it,” says Hendryx, “but we have Keith Moon from the Who on drums and Nicky Hopkins who plays with the Rolling Stones [on keyboards]. You can’t do that again.”
Hendryx says Labelle was also determined to keep the reunion forward-looking. “It is about now,” she says. “We’re bringing some of what was then [back], but I live in the present.”
In a nod to that present they also sought out Kravitz, a big fan of the group, and Wyclef Jean, a buddy of Patti Labelle, to produce several tracks.
“Lenny went back and listened to a lot of the stuff that Allen Toussaint did on the ‘Nightbirds’ album,” says Hendryx of the group’s most successful disc, thanks to “Lady Marmalade.” “And you know, he lives in that old school, analog, let’s-cut-it-live place, so it was great that he has that sensibility and love and appreciation for music of the past. (more)