Patti LaBelle

The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle

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Albeit temporarily, Patti LaBelle is the latest R&B star to cross back over to gospel music. It's been high time since she took that step -- she got her start singing in church and has recorded enough gospel material over the years to fill an entire disc. But the timing was never right, and now, with LaBelle 40 years into her career as a singer and performer, the stars finally lined up for The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle. It's a pretentious title coming from someone who isn't a full-time practitioner in the genre -- you'd swear she's trying to rewrite the rules of how gospel is done -- but this Gospel is nowhere near such transcendence, not by a long shot. There's enough marquee value to the proceedings to convince even the staunchest gospel head that LaBelle is for real -- CeCe Winans, Mary Mary, Yolanda Adams, the Soul Seekers, Tye Tribbett & G.A., and J. Moss are some of the invited luminaries -- but the performances are too placid and middling, even by contemporary gospel standards. The guests are all powerhouses of gospel in their own right, but in LaBelle's company they shy away from proffering anything substantive or convincing. It's almost as if LaBelle were more concerned with putting together a get-together than paying homage to her church roots -- after all, that's where the singer first cut her teeth. Instead, Gospel is rife with ultra-slick urban stylings and excessive believe-in-yourself platitudes -- R. Kelly can create more rousing gospel material than that. There are a few moments that inspire, like LaBelle's jazzed-out duet with Wynonna ("My Everything") and a hand-clappin' slice of Sunday morning ("God Ain't Through"). Outside of those, Gospel may be inspirational but it isn't inspiring -- heck, when Kanye West has a cameo on a gospel album, you know something's up.

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