Audio Fidelity AFZ5 196
Nightbirds became Labelle's most successful record, capturing the trio at their creative peak. The 1974 Top 10 album included their #1 hit, "Lady Marmalade" and after a decade of dues-paying hard work performing as Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, Labelle found international fame.
The brilliant voices of the three band members, Patti LaBelle, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx were praised for mixing their R&B/pop sound with elements of rock and funk. The success of the album helped to pioneer the disco movement and influenced dance music for four decades. In 2003, the album was listed as one of Rolling Stone magazine's 500 greatest albums of all time.
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Review by Rick Kosmick - June 27, 2015
Labelle (Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, Sarah Dash) were a very talented singing group looking for that elusive hit album to reach the pinnacle as major recording artists. They hit it big-time with "Nightbirds" released in 1974. Part of this success was due to the renown Allen Toussaint, who was responsible for the production and splendid horn arrangements stamped all over the excellent selection of songs on this album. In my opinion, it was a great fit of producer with a vocal group and, not to be overlooked, the Meters were the session players with a reputation as top-rate musicians that added to this perfect mix.
"Nightbirds" reflected the R&B roots of Labelle with the lead track and funk music of "Lady Marmalade", a song that would go on to be a huge No.1 single and certified classic (and what great dance music). The dance beats continued as exemplified in the the superior "Don't Bring Me Down" (penned by Toussaint) set in a seductive, mid-tempo rhythm. But Labelle also moved into rock/pop on the album with the slow tempo title song "Nightbirds" (one of 5 songs written by Nona Hendryx) that, for me, is a standout track with Patti LaBelle's great lead vocals equally supported by the strong backing vocals of Hendryx and Dash (indeed powerful vocals all-round).
My review of this SACD is based exclusively on the Quad 4.0 multi-channel. Right up front, the sonics on this surround disc are superlative. The 4 channels are very discreet and you do get the quadraphonic tendency to frequently shift around vocals and instruments in the mix; however, I would not term this mix as overly aggressive. I found the sound to be quite immersive with a broad yet well balanced soundfield. The spatial qualities are excellent and a nice bright tone (also quite warm) is reflected in the irresistible dance pulsations. The instruments have exceptional separation that show off the skills of the Meters. As always important to me, the bass is sharp and well defined in holding up the bottom end. The great horn arrangements, in particular, really show off in the upper range as these instruments at times quite effectively jump out from different channels.
As previously mentioned, the title song "Nightbirds" has these great vocals. Patti LaBelle's voice comes from the front channels with a nice phantom centre and the backing vocals chime in beautifully from the rear channels. You also hear in this song the underlying clarity of beautiful flute work from Alvin Thomas and piano styling of Allen Toussaint. This is top-notch Quad audio that is repeated in the fine production of each song on this album.
It was nice to see Audio Fidelity provide acknowledgements on the outer slipcase for the original Quad and remix supervised by Harold Kleiner and Quad engineer Don Puluse (they both deserve a special credit). Also a salute to Gus Skinas for another excellent 4.0 analogue to DSD digital transfer.
LaBelle, Hendryx and Dash would go on to further success (although limited) in their solo work but "Nightbirds" represents the high point in their musical careers. It is a classic album that Rolling Stone magazine ranked as No. 272 on the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. And now it is available in high resolution SACD with glorious multi-channel audio. What a great combination of music and sound.
Copyright © 2015 Rick Kosmick and HRAudio.net