The Album -- Patti Labelle, "Released," Epic (JE 36381). The Show -- At the Capital Centre, Friday at 8.
Powerhouse Patti Labelle, who has sung her share of frenzy on pop R&B records over the years, turns in a smoother and wiser performance on "Released," her latest album. Still throbbing with energy, but of a sophisticated sort, Labelle sounds perfectly at ease with her new cool.
While leading the female trio "Labelle" through three rowdy LPs in the '70s, the Philadephia native gained a hot reputation for singles like the risque "Lady Marmalade" (best remembered for its hookline, "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ?"). Later she launched a successful solo career, turning out three more albums on the way this mature effort.
Appropriately slick on a couple of pure disco numbers, and soothing on the sweet ballads, her voice simmers in top form. Minus the wailing, it's rich and able to claim supersonic high notes, like those on the chorus of "Love Has Finally Come" and at the end of "Come and Dance." Labelle co-wrote five of the album's songs, but Allen Toussaint deserves honors for overall direction. The noted New Orleans producer, with several solo soul LPs of his own, arranged and produced the album and wrote three of the best songs, including the irresistible title cut.
"Release (The Tension)" is a straight-ahead R&B jaunt, coaxing a stalemated love affair into action: "Release, show some emotion/and let the motion rock us away." Male background voices underscore the driving dance beat. Labelle's soprano outbursts give way to direct, even-handed vocals, expertly produced in the most flattering light. When she commands "rock on" in a throaty chant, listeners do rock on.
Slowing down for Toussaint's "Don't Make Your Angel Cry," a whispery tune in the old Motown vein, Labelle adopts a vulnerable stance, briefly appearing as a Diana Ross sound-alike. "Cut out those little white lies," she begs, as the soft rhythm guitar and gentle percussion instruments mesh with celestial strings. Her pleading, gospel-tinged ballad style is most convincing on "Find the Love," an urgent, beautiful cry, for the children's sake, to "find the love, teach the love, preach the love."
However, the most graceful moments -- and the furthest departure from mindless disco droning -- occur on "I Don't Go Shopping." Her theme is faithful love and the lush arrangement is stirring. Subdued horns and strings build behind her swaying vocal: "I've saved it all up for you."
Repeatedly, Labelle's subjects are fidelity and everlasting love, serious stuff for the former wild lady. But she hasn't lost her fireworks and is guaranteed to rock on when she comes to Washington for a Fourth of July concert.