Luther Vandross - Hidden Gems (2012)

Luther Vandross
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Thanks to his understated elegance, impeccable phrasing and sophisticated style of delivering soul music, it’s hard to believe that anyone can say they’ve never heard, or heard of, Luther Vandross. Before he passed in 2005, the 54-year-old singer/songwriter/producer, who once scraped by singing commercial jingles and background vocals, had amassed a quarter century’s worth of hits, so titling anything by the superstar as a Hidden Gems may sound erroneous. However, due to the multiple smashes Mr. Vandross released over the years, other worthy numbers were overlooked or unrecognized, hence the reason for considering these selections as such.

Thanks to his understated elegance, impeccable phrasing and sophisticated style of delivering soul music, it’s hard to believe that anyone can say they’ve never heard, or heard of, Luther Vandross. Before he passed in 2005, the 54-year-old singer/songwriter/producer, who once scraped by singing commercial jingles and background vocals, had amassed a quarter century’s worth of hits, so titling anything by the superstar as a Hidden Gems may sound erroneous. However, due to the multiple smashes Mr. Vandross released over the years, other worthy numbers were overlooked or unrecognized, hence the reason for considering these selections as such.

The fifteen-track collection (pulled mostly from previous studio CDs and going all the way back to his 1981 debut, Never Too Much), is made of Quiet-Storm-worthy ballads, deft dance numbers and others that fall in-between. Some will be instantly familiar, given that disc jockeys had more freedom in the 80s and early 90s to play what sounded good (rather than what corporate-driven entities compelled them to), so many fans came to enjoy (and even prefer) selections that weren’t originally poised for airplay: there’s Luther's nimbly-nuanced approach to a trio of remakes, The Imperials’ signature smash, “Going Out Of My Head,” a soaring, sophisticated take on “The Impossible Dream” (both from 1994’s Songs) and the delectable duet with Martha Wash, “I Who Have Nothing,” rendered with reverence to the originals but indelibly imprinted with Mr. Vandross’ style. The passionate and persuasive ballad “I Know You Want To,” from 1988’s Any Love, is just as beguiling a ballad as the CD’s title track: “I hear your heartbeat, I feel you shiver/And in the stillness of the night, I can hear the angels saying to me/’She wants to love you, she wants to care. But she’s so afraid of a broken heart, when she starts to fall, will someone be there?’”

Mr. Vandross wasn't known for uptempos, but the ones that make it onto Gems manage to hold their own pretty well: “The Thrill I’m In,” from the 1995 soundtrack of “Money Train,” splashingly confesses to enjoying the roller-coaster ride of a new love, and “Really Started Something” features one of his most glib and enthusiastic vocal performances ever (if fans can circumvent the obnoxiously tacked-on techno beat): “You really gave it to me (you really started something), scares me to the bone/How does it feel knowing (you really started something) that I can’t leave you alone?”

Depending on your tolerance for syrupy songs, some of the other additions may be just right or simply fall short: “I’d Rather” and “Once Were Lovers,” from Luther Vandross and Dance With My Father, repectively, are painstaking portrayals of love faltering or failing, while “Heart of A Hero” and “You Stopped Loving Me” are made essential by the meticulous subtlety and sinuous restraint that he applied to its verses and conclusions. His ability to emphasize emotion without becoming over-the-top in the process is one of the reasons why Luther Vandross was so mesmerizing…..and now, so deeply missed.

Singers are talented people who can bring life to words with music, but Mr. Vandross went much further, becoming a musical maestro who arranged and articulated his vision as well. What Hidden Gems does for his fans, new-to-Luther listeners and his overall legacy as an entertainer is twofold, proving his levels of virtuosity and the stratospheric standards that he applied to ‘b-sides’ as well as the expected baby-makers. It allows those who’ve played and replayed his classics since his death to explore Luther’s expertise from different angles, and that reason alone is enough to closely examine this Gem. Warmly Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 
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