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A Former Girl-Group Singer Goes 'All Or Nothing'

With new songs and covers, La La Brooks' <em>All or Nothing</em> isn't just an attempted career comeback.
Jacob Blickenstaff
Courtesy of the artist
With new songs and covers, La La Brooks' All or Nothing isn't just an attempted career comeback.

A half-century on, La La Brooks still sings about boys and girls falling in love. At an age when other veterans of first-generation rock movements are thinking about retirement or oldies tours, Brooks has come up with a fresh, energetic collection that doesn't deny her past, but also refuses to succumb to mere nostalgia.

Brooks has a strong, surging voice that has deepened over the years, as can be heard in "Mind Made Up." But it's not as though the teenager who sang The Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me" was a cooing puppet for Phil Spector. Brooks' singing, then and now, is characterized by firm assertiveness. She conveys pleasure in being the object of someone's affection, but also in speaking her mind, even when the words are written by others.

"I Broke That Promise" is a song that Brooks has said she's wanted to record since Willy De Ville released his own version of it in the late '70s. Like the Brooklyn-born La La Brooks, Willy De Ville was a New York rocker whose hard-boiled exterior can barely contain a romantic's sensibility. Combine that with a learned-over-decades sense of right and wrong, and Brooks' collection gains crisp authority.

All or Nothing isn't a great album. Its material is uneven, much of it co-written by two of the musicians who helped put this album together, and the production quality can be muddy. But La La Brooks sings her heart out in every number, and she brings such nuanced force to her phrasing and tone that you don't mind the album's flaws. All or Nothing is a reminder that rock and pop can thrive on imperfection, because it can make the performer sound all the more urgently alive.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.