Sadly, two years after both suffering a massive heart attack and ironically having his biggest hit ever (“Dance With My Father”), Luther Vandross passed away July 1, 2005, at the all too young age of 54. Perhaps in tribute, I’ve been listening to this compilation a lot lately, though in truth before his death I probably hadn’t listened to it in years. Anyway, Luther Vandross was one of the premier rhythm & blues vocalists of the past 25 years, a sensitive balladeer who also specialized in lightly funky, highly danceable r&b. Though hardly a composer on the level of Al Marvin Gaye, Al Green, or Stevie Wonder, all of whom he covers here, Vandross’ velvety smooth voice is undeniable, capable of transforming piffles into pay dirt. This double album contains 20 of his best songs up until 1989, including what was then a brand new hit ballad “Here And Now,” which finally crossed Luther over into the mainstream after many more modest successes (he’d long been a mainstay on the r&b charts). Having previously worked with David Bowie (on Young Americans) and sung for Chic, the first two up-tempo songs here (neither written by Luther) see him singing with the group Change. “Searching” is notable for its length (8:02 - a lot of these songs are rather long, actually), a good percolating groove, interesting pots and pans percussion, singable harmonies, well-placed horns, and of course Luther’s silken vocal delivery, while “The Glow Of Love” is a smooth nod to string-drenched Philly soul. Going solo, Luther penned “Never Too Much,” a lightly funky, jazz-tinged, and catchy number, while “If This World Were Mine” (a Marvin Gaye cover) is a slow burning duet with Cheryl Lynn. Alas, as with several ballads here, this one is overly prettified and smoothed out, making it gorgeous but bland. However, Luther’s vocals are never less than lovely, and the enjoyably mellow dance grooves of “’Til My Baby Comes Home” and “Stop To Love” contain enticing rhythms and choice instrumental bits in addition to what Dionne Warwick calls THE VOICE. Elsewhere, his interpretations of Bacharach/David’s “A House Is Not A Home,” Smokey Robinson’s “Since I Lost My Baby,” and Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett/Stevie Wonder, etc's “Superstar/Until You Come Back To Me” are justifiably lauded by many, and I myself am partial to the Brenda Russell/Stevie Wonder medley, “If Only For One Night/Creepin’.”
Granted, some of those tinkly keyboards that so represented the ‘80s sound dated today, and Luther offers little in the way of variety, but by and large the female backing vocals hit the spot, though Luther’s voice is always the main attraction. As Luther (with Gregory Hines) states, “There’s Nothing Better Than Love,” and on a good percentage of this package his case is stated with an effortless elegance, making it abundantly clear that Luther Vandross was (and will forever be) all about love.
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