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Labelle: Looking Back In The Here And 'Now'

Back to Now, the reunion release from Patti Labelle and her partners in Labelle, finds their piercing mid-'70s sound fitting perfectly amid today's music scene. In context, the seemingly nonsensical title even makes sense: It looks back while sounding as fresh and funky as ever.

And ever and ever and ever, to quote from "Candlelight," one of Back to Now's best cuts. Nona Hendryx, the group's designated rocker, wrote this song of fiery longing, which appears to be telling a guy that there's a candle out burning for him if he decides to come back. Or something like that; Labelle has never won awards for enunciation.

What is its forte is fat and ferocious girl-group harmony, a perfect foil for Miss Patti's biting vocals. The woman who once performed in a sexy space suit, complete with aluminum-hued hair, reins in the over-the-top histrionics and middle-of-the-road bathos that have characterized her recent solo releases. Lenny Kravitz handles production duties here; now, if he could only convince Patti Labelle to fly over the stage, just like in the '70s, this stuff would really feel "back to now."

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Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.