Patti LaBelle – Bel Hommage

Patti LaBelle "Bel Hommage"Patti LaBelle‘s last album was “Miss Patti’s Christmas”, released in 2007. 10 years after her holiday record, she comes up with a collection of Jazz standards (mostly), starting out with “The Jazz In You” with a luxurious horn section and a grand entrée before she steps back for “Wild Is The Wind”. Patti of course is one of those singers who can sing anything she wants to and there is not a single moment on this record where you can actually sense or hear that she’s in her early 70s now. But the album is not one of those super slick, over-produced gimmick records that many classic acts have recorded while in the late period of their careers (think about the awful Rod Stewart disaster).

Patti shines most on the slower tunes I think, but she still is a strong belter on “Moanin'” which also comes with an organ solo by Jamar Jones who produced the album. Thankfully, Patti mixes it up with country star Tammy Wynette‘s classic “Til I Get It Right” (1972) and this way, turns the focus away from just another standards collection by an aging legend. I think she should have included a couple of more tunes from the country genre because it just suits her so well. Her voice soars, caresses, soothes, explodes, and heals.

The one and only Kem is the featured vocalist on “Moody’s Mood For Love”, but Patti can’t beat this one with the version by that other Patti, Miss Austin. “Softly As I Leave You” was a big 60s hit for singers like Matt Monro and Frank Sinatra and Patti’s version of this Italian popular song is simply beautiful, very close to the edge of becoming kitschy, but she really turns it into her own song, making it one of those classy Patti ballad moments that we have come to cherish so much over the years. “Peel Me A Grape” is just not mine – the only veritable interpretation is Blossom Dearie‘s so I always have to skip this one.

I like her version of “Don’t Explain” and the sexy arrangement. The drama of the story gets some extra suspense here by her special phrasing as if she still is the woman in charge in this wicked plot. “I Can Cook Too” is fair enough, with some extra backing vocals and a cool arrangement, but once again my favorite version of this Leonard Bernstein classic still is by Patti Austin. But here, there is one of those special LaBelle moments towards the end where she belts it out like only she can do. I’m a big fan of “The Folks Who Live On The Hill” and especially on this particular track, the biggest problem with records like this one becomes clear: I have already heard my favorite, sometimes definite interpretation of these classics, in this case it’s got to be the Carol Sloane version.

But she doesn’t stay on the safe route and comes up next with the seldom heard “Go To Hell” and the Jacques Brel drama “Song For Old Lovers” where she excels once again (don’t like the syrupy strings here), making (intelligent) way for the grand finale, another tune that can’t be beat: “Here’s To Life” is done in a very simple, trimmed-down style with piano accompaniment only and with more of those Patti moments: her way of singing “dreams” (“So here’s to life to dreamers and their dreams”) is just stunning, once again making it her own. I’m sure this would be an amazing showstopper in her live shows, just like “Over The Rainbow” has been over the years and yes, Shirley Horn’s version can’t be beat but Patti LaBelle comes close with her inimitable style and phrasing.

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