Picks and Pans Review: Gems

updated 06/20/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/20/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Patti LaBelle

In the past, so much fuss was made about Patti LaBelle's latest big hairdo that her music was often eclipsed. This lime the just-turned-50 diva plays it safe, taking her coif way down and releasing a collection of mostly quiet-storm ballads largely free of the over-the-top melisma that left previous albums wobbly. With the sole exception of "Right Kinda Lover," the up-tempo first single, Gems is brimming with R&B mainstays—call-and-response vocals, a gospel choir and God-or lover-centered lyrics. LaBelle is still looking for a song to match her voice as perfectly as "If Only You Knew" (her understatedly poignant 1983 hit), though "If I Didn't Have You" and "Time Will Tell," with their fine jazz shadings, come close. Regardless, when she really flies, you might swear she's the Queen of Soul. (MCA)

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