The irony of its title aside, Introducing Darlene Love is latest in a series of continuing comebacks that have brought numerous living legends belated attention in the 21st century. Not surprisingly, their talent proves timeless, and in the wake of the renewed interest accorded Mavis Staples and Bettye Lavette, it seems only fitting that Darlene Love should also get her due. As is generally the case with these retro refits, several marquee names are on board to help amply the attention. In this case, the album is chock full of original contributions from a veritable who’s who of songwriting superstars — Springsteen, Costello, Jimmy Webb, Desmond Child, Joan Jett, Linda Perry, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill among them. With talent like that, success would seem all but assured. Get Donald Trump to sing these songs and even he would likely have a hit.
Happily, it’s not Trump but Love that’s here at the helm, and under the careful guidance of Stevie Van Zandt, an avowed admirer of all things archival, Introducing Darlene Love goes a long way to make up for lost time and assure some truth in advertising. It’s a celebratory set, not only as far as the songs and the impressive supporting cast, but more importantly, in the way Love embraces the material and turns this album into an actual event. There’s a clear sense of joy and exultation evident herein, and despite her fabled history, Love’s arguably never sounded better. That’s no minor accomplishment; Love’s legacy includes stints with some of the biggest names of all time, among them, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, the Righteous Brothers, the Beach Boys, Sam Cooke and several dozen others. Her earliest efforts were with an all girl group called the Blossoms, but it was under the tutelage of that oddball/eccentric Phil Spector that she scored several hits — the biggest being “He’s a Rebel” — that became essential elements in rock’s early ‘60s sound. Fans of David Letterman might also recall her annual appearances on his Late Night when she would help usher in the holidays with her Christmas classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”
Of course, history and trivia that accompanies it are one thing, but measuring up to past performance in present circumstances is quite another. Fortunately, Introducing… finds Love well up to the task, While each author’s signature is clearly etched in the songs they share — it ‘s easy to imagine Costello himself crooning his “Forbidden Nights” or the Boss roaring through his “Night Closing In” — Love accomplishes a formidable feat in making the material still appear as if it’s her own. Van Zandt’s arrangements bolster that impression, and while they can’t quite replicate Spector’s so-called Wall of Sound, they create a sturdy backdrop regardless, replete with horns, strings and epic instrumentation that would likely find Spector himself offering a nod of approval (albeit from behind bars). As for Love, she’s more than capable of soaring above these elaborate set-ups, whether wailing through big blustery ballads like “Last Time,” “Still Too Soon To Know” or Who Under Heaven, or sharing an indelibly passionate performance on “Love Kept Us Foolin’ Around, “Among the Believers” or that classic chestnut “River Deep, Mountain High.” It’s just part of what makes Introducing Darlene Love such a remarkable return.