Recordings | November 2015
By Cait Brennan, November 2015 Issue.
Introducing Darlene Love
Columbia Records |
For too long – decades, even – Darlene Love’s name was known mostly to rock and roll insiders, who regarded her as a legend of the first order. In 1962 she and her group the Blossoms had a number one hit with “He’s A Rebel” – only producer Phil Spector took their name off the record and credited it to an entirely different band called “The Crystals.” Classy guy from the outset, Phil. She sang on “Be My Baby” with Ronnie Spector and on “That’s Life” with Frank Sinatra. Sam Cooke, Elvis, the Beach Boys and countless others all brought her in to sing on their hits.
Photo courtesy of facebook.com/darleneloveworld.
Finally things began to change. David Letterman invited Love to sing her holiday classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on his show every year. U2 covered the tune (she sang background on that, too). She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2011, featured in the movie 20 Feet From Stardom in 2013, and now, she’s finally getting the quality “debut” album she deserves. 50 years in, Introducing Darlene Love is not even a tongue in cheek title: it’s time to get to know this extraordinary woman.
For an old-school singer, Introducing sounds effortlessly modern; it’s less retro, and less self-consciously so, than the countless retro-soul imitators working the circuit these days. It’s powered by a voice that has not dimmed a bit in decades, and it has another strength going for it, too: the songs.
Love has excellent taste and high-wattage fans like Linda Perry, Joan Jett, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Webb, Bruce Springsteen and Spingsteen’s longtime compatriot Little Steven Van Zandt, all of whom made songwriting contributions to the album. Perry’s “Love Kept Us Foolin’ Around” swings with ‘60s cool (imagine a more world-wise Meghan Trainor for the effect, kids); Costello’s “Still Too Soon To Know” is a smart, bittersweet ballad recalling Roy Orbison; The Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley turns in a fine, gritty duet performance (confidentially, Love didn’t need the help, but it’s nice to hear Medley on a record regardless.)
Love turns in sparkling performances on all 14 tracks, but she really shines on the Springsteen songs, especially the electric “Night Closing In.” With power, drama, majesty, and effortless elegance, Love out-bosses the Boss and proves that in a just world, she would have been a massive rock star 40 years ago. Introducing Darlene Love may go a long way towards correcting that injustice.