A decent Dionne Warwick album can be found within the sprawling She's Back, her first new recording in five years.
17 May 2019
There is a very nice Dionne Warwick album to be found within She's Back, her first recording in five years. However, finding that album within the 60-plus minutes of music on She's Back is a bit of a challenge.
Dionne Warwick is the premiere interpreter of what is arguably the most sophisticated songbook in the history of 1960s pop: that of composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David. Warwick's recordings of iconic Bacharach/David songs – among them, "Walk on By", "Do You Know the Way to San Jose", and "Promises Promises" – are timeless examples of impeccable singing, songwriting, production, and studio musicianship. Seriously: listen closely to the session musicians on upbeat Warwick tunes like "Another Night" and "Always Something There to Remind Me". The musical interplay happening behind Warwick's vocals is thrilling.
Despite – or maybe because of – the legendary nature of Warwick's Bacharach/David records, she has chosen a lesser-known career touchstone to serve as a template for She's Back: her 1969 album, Soulful. Co-produced by Warwick and Chips Moman (Bacharach/David received executive production credit) at American Sound Studios in Memphis, Soulful was Warwick's take on an earthier, more R&B sound than that of her Bacharach/David hits.
She's Back, produced by Warwick's son, Damon Elliott, is being promoted as Warwick's first album grounded in rhythm and blues since Soulful, but R&B has changed so much in 50 years that the two albums bear little resemblance to each other. Soulful had an organic, unified sound throughout, featuring drums, bass, guitar, and piano, with some minimal string arrangements. She's Back is a more scattered affair, reflecting bits and pieces of many different musical trends that have woven through R&B since the 1970s.
Of course, the star of She's Back is Dionne Warwick, so the quality of her voice is what's most important. Warwick's voice is somewhat weathered, but she is still a warm, expressive vocalist.
She's Back gets off to a slow start, with four ballads in a row, three of them duets (with Musiq Soulchild, Kenny Lattimore, and Kevon Edmonds). While these songs might not be bad on their own, they slow the initial momentum of the album considerably.
She's Back begins to pick up steam with the fifth track, a revamped version of Warwick's 1979 hit, "Déjà vu" that features rapper Krayzie Bone of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. While the obligatory rap guest verse on pop and R&B albums has become a bit of a cliché, this new "Déjà vu" is actually kind of fun. It's easy to imagine "Déjà vu" co-writer, the late, great Isaac Hayes, somewhere in soul heaven, exclaiming "this Dionne/Krayzie Bone collabo is a bad mother" before a host of seraphim advise him to shut his mouth.
The new "Déjà vu" would have been the perfect way to open the album, as it's followed by a more varied set of songs from those that precede it. These include gospel-infused pop songs like "Life Is Waiting" and "We Need to Go Back". And, while the world may not necessarily need another version of "What the World Needs Now Is Love", the remake that closes She's Back feels like a suitable way to conclude the suite of somewhat socially conscious songs that end the album.
With some thoughtful editing, from 15 songs down to 10 or at most 12, She's Back would pack more of a punch. But in any event, it's good to have Warwick back. It's also worth noting that She's Back includes a bonus disc, Dionne Sings Dionne, an entertaining 1998 album in which Warwick revisits a set of songs from throughout her career. Some of the remakes work better than others, but overall, Dionne Sings Dionne is a nice value-added bonus to She's Back.