She's Back

Dionne Warwick

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She's Back Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

The title She's Back implies Dionne Warwick has been gone for much longer than the five years that separate the record from its predecessor, 2014's Feels So Good, but it's intended to convey that this 2019 album finds Warwick returning to R&B and soul, the music that originally made her a star in the '60s. The publicity surrounding She's Back claimed that this was her first R&B album since Soulful, an LP released on Scepter way back in 1969, but to a certain extent, this is a matter of splitting hairs. Warwick kept having R&B hits well into the late '80s and she easily glided between soul and easy listening even at the start of her career. What is different about She's Back is how it, like the Chips Moman co-production Soulful, is explicitly targeted at the R&B charts. Of course, R&B has changed significantly in the five decades separating the two LPs, something that producer Damon Elliot -- who doubles as Dionne Warwick's son -- does not ignore. Elliot paints She's Back with all manners of modern flair: the rhythms are electronic, the instruments largely synthesized, and the bass is often cranked. Several vocalists are invited to help broaden Warwick's appeal, too. Her duet partners are relatively old-fashioned (Kenny Lattimore, Brian McKnight), relatively hip (Musiq Soulchild), and certainly surprising (Krayzie Bone, whose verse on "Déjà Vu" is disarming), and they all help nudge She's Back into the 21st century, even if the overall aesthetic remains lodged in the 20th century. Often, She's Back seems like a hybrid between Warwick's silky uptown '60s classics and '80s quiet storm, a blend that has its appeal but is tarnished slightly by the stiffness of the production and Warwick's diminished range. Since the album relies so heavily on ballads and slow jams, it becomes apparent that Warwick's voice isn't as supple as it once was, a transition that is inevitable with age, but the songs and settings of She's Back cast this human deficit in an unfortunately harsh light. [Initial editions of She's Back contained a remastered version of Warwick's 1998 album Dionne Sings Dionne as a bonus disc.]

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