Tuesday, September 29, 2015


A bit of a joke of course, that title, but many won't know Darlene Love as a singer as much as a personality. After her many years singing at Christmas on the Letterman show, and her appearance in the documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom, about back-up singers, she's more famous for being retro-famous.

These late career comeback albums follow a formula of sorts. Using the Roy Orbison and Solomon Burke examples, you draft in a big-name producer (Miami Steve from the E Street Band here), and collect new or slightly-used tunes from famous stars. Here, The Boss pays tribute as a long-time fan with two compositions, as does Elvis Costello (a veteran of the Burke and Orbison albums as well). Since Love is a vet of '60's Brill Building songs, there's a Mann/Weil song, and a Jimmy Webb one as well. The producer drops in three as well. And although he doesn't write any, Love fanboy Paul Shaffer drops down a killer organ solo on the gospel closer Jesus Is the Rock (That Keeps Me Rollin'). written by Van Zandt.

Everybody worked very, very hard on this, and you can tell all hands were keen to work with the icon. She's unquestionably on fire here, especially on the cuts that make her most comfortable, the gospel-styled ones, and big belters such as the Springsteen tracks. There's a brilliant remake of River Deep, Mountain High that equals the Ike and Tina Turner original as well. Van Zandt tries to do her proud, and comes up with some major productions and arrangements, especially with horns and strings. They aren't quite Wall-of-Sound, but people don't exactly mention Phil Spector's name a lot lately.

Sometimes in an effort to sound big, the productions come out a little too slick, more Classic Rock and simply classic. There are definitely songs to skip over here, odd choices of material from the likes of Joan Jett and Linda Perry, and Van Zandt's opener, Among The Believers, isn't the strongest cut. Even Costello's numbers don't work all that well. Forbidden Nights is an attempt to recreate an early '60's number, and sounds more like an exercise than inspiration. His Still Too Soon To Know is killed by the inclusion of Righteous Brother Bill Medley as a duet partner for Love, and his voice has certainly not weathered the years as well as hers.

Oh my goodness though, three cheers for Springsteen, who really came through with two new gems. The album is worth it for his songs alone, glorious grand epics that capture the spirit of his Born To Run - Darkness On The Edge Of Town days, when he and Van Zandt were attempting to bring this very sound to their own music. I count five really great songs, five pretty good, and four duds, so I'd say that's a good score for anyone, let alone a 74-year old.

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