Patti LaBelle's comeback album is titled Timeless Journey, but her career has been a longer, stranger trip than casual fans probably realize. Not only did her musical debut (in 1960, with future Supreme Cindy Birdsong, in the Ordettes) predate the emergence of the Beatles, but the woman who would one day become an MOR icon was also at the center of one of the most groundbreaking acts in history. Named after its central member, LaBelle was a Motown girl group gone garishly glam; during their '70s heyday, the trio rocked out, opened for the Who, and forgot more freakiness than X-Tina, Pink, and Lil' Kim (who recently covered LaBelle's signature hit "Lady Marmalade") are ever likely to know.
Those days are long gone, but this year, at age 60, LaBelle demonstrated her staying power with Journey, which she's touring behind this summer. Released on the Def Soul Classics imprint, it's a conscious move toward the slick, gospel-tinged R&B of Mary J. Blige -- an obvious Patti disciple. And with a debut inside Billboard's top 20, LaBelle successfully reached out to a generation of fans young enough to be her grandchildren and proved she's still no one to funk with.