REVIEW: Darlene Love - "Introducing Darlene Love"
If you were to find the records of what I checked out of the Troy Public Library between the ages of 12 and 15, Darlene Love’s autobiography My Name is Love would be on there a solid four or five times. At that time, Love was making a living as an entertainer, but not a star, as she had been since the early 1980s. Doing musicals, session work, bit parts in films, and annual appearances on David Letterman’s Christmas show-- she was present, yet under the radar. Love was a cult favorite, a story of the perils of sixties pop, and a casualty of Phil Spector’s regime. She had become such a symbol of the past events in her life, that she was forgotten as a current performer.
About five years ago, a Darlene Love renaissance began. It wasn’t a comeback, as she never really left, and “renaissance” almost seems too understated a word. Learn her story-- she worked and worked at this for years, and now, at age 74, she just released a kickass album.
In 2011, Darlene Love was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was rumored that she had the passionate backing of E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt, who has been rumored to have passionately backed other nominations for Rock Hall induction, the Rascals being the most notable. Van Zandt is the ultimate fan for many groups and will go to bat for those he feels strongly about. A few years later, Van Zandt has produced Introducing Darlene Love. His support doesn’t stop with just securing accolades for his favorites.
Two years later came 20 Feet from Stardom, an Academy Award-winning documentary about the careers of famous backup singers, one of the most integral supporting roles to stars. Love’s story was a centerpiece for the film, and her humble grace about her career struck viewers as her story got a wider audience.
All of a sudden, Darlene Love was known again. The cloak of obscurity was lifted on a woman in her seventies who had spent her life as a professional musician, a working entertainer. As a person who once nervously sent her a question through the email form on her website at age 13 (I asked for clarification on her friendship with Ronnie Spector-- was it real? I had interpreted some of the word choices in her anecdotes about Ronnie to be less than friendly and no, I never got an answer), it was like a strange fever dream to see Darlene Love in headlines, mentioned in blogs, and discussed on social media.
The dream got stranger when late last year, Van Zandt announced he was producing a solo album for Darlene Love on his label. There was no way this could be anything but amazing, and it has lived up to that. The lineup of writers on the album is stacked: Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Webb, Joan Jett, Desmond Child, and one of the sixties pop dream teams that are still working, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. It also features a duet with fellow Spector survivor Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers.
It is an incredibly rich record, with thoughtful arrangements backing up Love’s voice throughout. It sounds like a send up to everything that is right in Love’s wheelhouse-- Wall of Sound pop, girl group vocal arrangements, and gospel music. All of the artists involved clearly have a respect for these sounds, as they don’t come across as over-baked or schlocky, but instead highlight Love’s still stunning talent in a context where we all know and love her. The record doesn’t try to do anything groundbreaking or new, but instead stands as a collection of great writing and great singing. It is fun, and makes you feel like there is nothing wrong with just listening to something for the pure joy of it--and that is very satisfying. Nothing on the record is overthought, and yet everything about it is just as infectious as Love’s own passion for what she does.
I was very interested to hear Springsteen’s contributions to the record, as he has a history of supporting Love. (If I could only watch one YouTube video for the rest of time, I wouldn’t mind if it was this one from her Rock Hall induction of them together, because I love everything about it, including that guitar riff, which almost makes me pass out.) Casey wondered during our first listening of the record if Springsteen wrote the songs for Love, or if they were taken from his supposedly enormous vault of unreleased writing, because “it sounds like something off of Tracks.” Fair, but it’s still awesome to hear a canonized voice of rock and roll sing the words of one of rock’s greatest writers. Favorites working with other favorites-- my fangirl fever dream continues.
My favorite on the record is her cover of “Little Liar,” which (I’m admittedly not up on my Joan Jett discography) I did not know was a cover until I researched it more. Joan Jett is a friend of Love’s and appears in the video for the album’s single, the Elvis Costello-penned “Forbidden Nights.” I have been a big Diane Warren/Desmond Child fan since learning they wrote quite a bit of Cher’s pop-rock 80’s comeback material. This track sounds suspiciously like “I Found Someone.”
I am a strong believer that “River Deep Mountain High” should not be covered, but I give Love a pass here because of the fun arrangement. Other highlights of the album are “Who Under Heaven” and “Among the Believers,” both Jimmy Webb tunes.
I have no idea if Love plans to add to her autobiography, but between the Rock Hall, the documentary, and her latest success, she’d have plenty of material. Introducing Darlene Love is a triumphant latest chapter for one of rock and roll’s greatest voices.