Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr In the last several decades, some of the biggest names in pop music thought it was time to pay it forward and help older artists who played a major role in their own development return to cultural relevance. Like Rick Rubin’s revitalization of Johnny Cash, a host of like-minded artists and producers began digging through the moldering stacks of pop cultural footnotes to see who might still be around and available to put together an album. A host of sixty and seventy-something were suddenly frequenting recording studios, often accompanied by hip young artists or so-called “musicians’ musicians.” Out of the past came new recordings from the likes of Solomon Burke, Loretta Lynn, Bettye LaVette, Bobby Womack and Gil Scott-Heron, among others. Most were met with sympathetic critical praise, regardless of whether or not it was truly warranted; some felt forced and featured pale imitations of formerly great pop performers. Joining the club is former Phil Spector protégé Darlene Love. Love has been largely quiet over the last several decades, popping up from time to time to poke fun at her girl group recordings, most spectacularly in “Christmastime for the Jews” on “SNL.” Her reappearance on the music scene feels somewhat forced if justified, given her lead vocal contributions to some of the best of Spector’s Wall of Sound singles. At 77, Love’s voice is still surprisingly crisp and clear, cutting through the mix with a precision held over from her days at Philles. On opening track “Among The Believers,” penned by producer Stevie Van Zandt, Love comes out swinging, adopting an aesthetic akin to her early ‘60s output. Featuring densely layered production full of multiple guitars, percussion, strings, horns and a wailing sax solo, it’s a clear throwback to Spector’s Wall of Sound. But Van Zandt’s production is just a little too slick, a little too well produced to truly land, and this is the case for the rest of the album. Part of the problem with Van Zandt’s approach lies in his attempt to ape Spector’s style. Because of this, Introducing plays more as a calculated homage or genre pastiche than an exploration of Love’s potential as a vocalist. To be sure, her voice is in fine form throughout and is afforded a number of great tracks from the likes of Elvis Costello (the stellar “Forbidden Nights” and “Still Too Soon To Know”), Bruce Springsteen (“Night Closing In” and “Just Another Lonely Mile”) and Jimmy Webb (the heavy-handed, maudlin ballad “Who Under Heaven”). But each is given a slick, glossy Spectorian approach that pales in comparison to the original Wall of Sound. The onus is on Van Zandt, whose approach is just a bit too reverential. Love’s performances are fantastic and it’s a thrill to hear her back out front, but she’s already been in these types of settings elsewhere, and better, so it seems a bit of a waste to simply attempt a stylistic rehash without allowing her to stretch out. Part of the appeal of other late-career rejuvenation projects has been in the artists being placed into settings just outside their comfort zone, pushing them to prove themselves as the artists they’ve long been claimed to be. Love is an undeniable talent and a major player in the history of popular music who has for too long been overlooked, but this isn’t the triumphant return she deserves. Rather it plays more like dinner theatre, missing the point of her appeal by trying to recapture a sound that is more a rough approximation than anything else. While Van Zandt brings in an impressive number of musicians, he never captures the magic that the Wrecking Crew imbued in Spector’s original recordings. Simply layering dozens of instruments does not do the trick, sounding here more like a busy mess than unified whole. That said, Introducing Darlene Love offers more than a few chances for Love herself to shine. Not surprisingly, her readings of two contributions from Elvis Costello – an artist who has proven himself adept at writing for others – prove to be some of the best here. Lead single “Forbidden Nights” approximates the feel of Love’s best-known records, while “Still Too Soon To Know” gives her the chance to show off her range on a low-key ballad. Similarly, Van Zandt’s boss’ “Night Closing In” is a masterful stab at vintage pop in the vein of Springsteen’s “Born To Run,” itself an homage to Spector’s Wall of Sound. Only on the deliriously funky “Painkiller” do Van Zandt and Love move away from the trademark Wall of Sound. While there are still hallmarks of the sound present, it’s enough of a stylistic deviation to feel like a breath of fresh air in the face of the otherwise stale arrangements that dominate the album. Had they followed this lead for the rest of the material here, Introducing would have been a far different and far better album. While all the requisite parts and personnel are present for Love’s grand reintroduction, with few exceptions it fails to reach the heights of her Spector-produced singles. If nothing else, Introducing Darlene Love should rekindle interest in her stellar back catalog, erasing the recent stigma of her former employer’s legal woes and fall from grace.