“Roll Out,” the lead single from Labelle’s first new studio album in over 30 years, represents just one dimension of the group’s genre-bending sound. The modern mid-tempo dance track produced by and featuring Wyclef Jean (and Jerry ‘Wonda’ Duplessis) highlights bouncing synth drumbeats and soaring vocals that deliver an empowering message to women. The single is from the upcoming Labelle recording, “Back to Now” to drop on October 21 on Verve Records.
From their formation in 1961 at the dawn of the girl-group era, through their pioneering years fusing rock, soul, and funk, Labelle’s innovation has set them apart in a genre all their own. With additional production by Gamble & Huff and Lenny Kravitz, ‘Back to Now’ embodies everything Labelle has ever been.
How the Labelle Reunion Came About:
After Nona found a song that was a tribute to civil rights leader Rosa Parks, “I asked Pat about us doing it as a group. Pat’s been talking about us getting back together for thirty years! I said, ‘we should either stop announcing it…or do it!’” For Patti, the idea of coming back together to record and tour was all about timing: “Every time it came up, I was working. I knew it was long overdue but each time, I was not ready to do it and I had so many things on my plate. My manager Damascene Pierre Paul kept asking me to do do this; he was begging me and finally, I gave in. Then I said, ‘I don’t want to half-step…I will make time to do this.” Adds Sarah, “We’d been talking about it and we had a meeting in 2007 to see what we could put in motion. We never did a farewell tour. We just stopped. This is a way of bringing completion for the fans who were with us from the beginning.”
The result of what Nona likes to call the trio’s “re-ignition” is a bold new album which embodies everything Labelle has ever been. With the group’s ever-distinct harmonies and high octane vocals, LaBelle, Hendryx and Dash bring something new and fresh to their latest work. Producers Lenny Kravitz, Gamble & Huff and Wyclef bring out the best in the trio. “I had just seen Kenny and Leon receiving their induction into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame and Pat performed “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” recalls Sarah. “I called Kenny and asked if he would meet with us.” Nona brought Kravitz to the table: “We’re friends and admirers of each other’s work. We talked to him about the idea of us getting together and invited him to a session. He showed up that day at 5:00 and we haven’t stopped working since.”
“Working with Lenny was a blast!” says Patti. “He played every instrument, even sang all the leads on the tracks. That’s how good he is. Kenny and Leon are like brothers to me. I trust them and they let me take credit for being myself.” Notes Nona, “Working with Lenny, Wyclef, and Kenny & Leon was meant to be. I really think the music led us to the people who would understand the new Labelle credo ‘back to now’. The past and the present, existing in the now!” Adds Sarah, “Lenny reminds me of the newness of today. I learned a lot from him. I really saw his vision for us. Our producers took the old and brought us right up to today.”
The songs are a perfect fit: “Without You,” began as an original idea from Nona: “The initial impetus for writing the song was as an ode to Labelle. You could hear it as a traditional love song or as the sentiment behind our re-ignition as a group.” Kenny Gamble “had an idea for another section for the song,” says Nona, while Patti added her input to the song (“from the first time I heard it, I loved it”). The final result: a dramatic, intense ballad in the best tradition of Labelle, building and building with soaring vocals.
“Our audiences came to expect all three of us to sing lead on different songs,” says Sarah. “That made us unlike any other female group. That’s what we do on ‘System’.” It is, Nona says, “an old song, something we performed thirty years ago that was intended for our next Labelle record in 1977. It means more today than it did even then. I love the rugged track Lenny created for it, reflecting the aggression that the ‘system’ represents.” Patti: “It’s about what’s happening now. It’s about the lies that have been told. It’s about not doing what the system tells you but about following your heart…”
Other album highlights include “Candelight,” a Hendryx original (“That’s old-styled Labelle!” says Sarah), “Super Lover,” a Hendry/Celli collaboration, and two G&H productions: : a rocking version of Mother’s Finest’s “Truth Will Set You Free” and a dance classic cover of Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel Mighty Real.” Nona remembers, “I worked with Joyce Kennedy (of Mother’s Finest) with the ‘Daughters Of Soul’ tours I did in Europe and Asia. “Truth Will Set You Free” was a great song from a great band and I felt it was something we could do.” For the dance floor, what better choice than reviving a song made famous by a dear friend: Sarah smiles, “What can I say? Sylvester was an icon. I loved doing this. I got use all aspects of my vocal range on this track.” As Patti says, “It ain’t nothin’ but a jam. It’s gonna make you dance like a fool.”
Labelle, known for delivering a potent message-in-song have been given the perfect vehicle, courtesy Gamble & Huff with “Tears For The World,” a new 2008 classic, sweeping, driving, thought-provoking. Patti recalls, “I was in Kenny’s office. It wasn’t raining that day but it felt dark. Sarah had just shown me her diary in which she had written ‘Let’s pray.” Nona, “After he heard Pat talking, Leon (Huff) went away and came back with the song. It talks about all the things we want to change.”
Concludes Nona, “Our new album is like going home and eating your Mom’s cooking, if your Mom was a good cook, that is!” Labelle sings of change, of love, of sex. A genre-shattering female trio who had social, musical and political statements to make in the ‘70s, re-emerge with the same kind of triple-threat power, bringing it all back to now.