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PATTI LaBELLE'S HIGH-SCHMALTZ DIET : "WINNER IN YOU." Patti LaBelle. MCA.

May 11, 1986|DENNIS HUNT

A young female pop singer who's an avid R&B fan recently made an astute comment about Patti LaBelle's gospel-style singing: "I like her and I don't. She has an incredible voice, but she hits you over the head with it. She overdoes it, bending and twisting every note. On a ballad, she'll often ruin the melody. She can tear a ballad to shreds."

My sentiments exactly.

Ballads are the weakness of her new pop-soul album, her first for MCA Records. Though she is guilty of vocal overkill, even a subdued LaBelle couldn't have salvaged hopelessly schmaltzy ballads like "Kiss Away the Pain," "Finally We're Back Together" and "Sleep With Me Tonight." The real loser is "There's a Winner in You," another of those hokey inspirational ballads. Aimed at her middle-of-the-road fans, this Ashford & Simpson composition is meant to be uplifting, but it's just bogus melodrama.

But LaBelle does exercise restraint most of the way on "On My Own," her hit duet with Michael McDonald. This gritty, melancholy song--the finest pop duet ballad in years--features McDonald's best singing since his Doobie Brothers days.

LaBelle has always been better on up-tempo songs--which make up half this album. Her singing is more relaxed and less frilly, probably because, with the emphasis on the musical tracks, she doesn't feel the need to do all that vocal posturing. The up-tempo material--especially two danceable techno-funk tunes, "Beat My Heart Like a Drum" and "You're Mine Tonight"--is all first-rate.

Of the many producers who contributed to the album, Richard Perry should be singled out for praise, since he produced those two cuts. The Pointer Sisters, who are also produced by Perry, should be miffed. Both songs would have been ideal for them.

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