Luther Vandross - The Classic Christmas Album (2012)

Luther Vandross
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It is tough to believe that it has been nearly a decade since Luther Vandross died. It is even tougher to see how his recording legacy continues to be sliced, diced and repackaged by Sony like home mortgages by big banks in 2007. It seems that every year a "new" Luther album is released that includes an awful lot of familiar songs along with an outtake or two we haven't heard before.  The latest release is fourth version of his 1995 holiday classic, This Is Christmas, now packaged with a couple of additions and called The Classic Christmas Album (in case you weren't keeping score, it was also released in 2002 as Home For Christmas, and was reissued again as This Is Christmas in 2004).

It is tough to believe that it has been nearly a decade since Luther Vandross died. It is even tougher to see how his recording legacy continues to be sliced, diced and repackaged by Sony like home mortgages by big banks in 2007. It seems that every year a "new" Luther album is released that includes an awful lot of familiar songs along with an outtake or two we haven't heard before.  The latest release is fourth version of his 1995 holiday classic, This Is Christmas, now packaged with a couple of additions and called The Classic Christmas Album (in case you weren't keeping score, it was also released in 2002 as Home For Christmas, and was reissued again as This Is Christmas in 2004).

First the positive: This is Christmas wasn't just a pretty good holiday album. It was one of the best Christmas releases of the 90s. Luther not only wrapped that voice around some religious and secular chestnuts such as "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," he also brought along excellent new material that played perfectly to his rich vocals and combined that material with lush, often dramatic production.

"With A Christmas Heart" is the first of the original compositions. Beginning with a simple piano opening, it develops into a full orchestral number, providing a powerful crescendo behind Vandross's brilliant vocals. Similar in tone is "This is Christmas," another big ballad that, with different lyrics, could have been one of Luther's hit love songs.  And Vandross struck a more contemporary, mid 90s tone on the mid-tempo "A Kiss For Christmas," the holiday party cut "The Mistletoe Jam" and the fun duet with Darlene Love, "A Kiss For Christmas."

The Classic Christmas Album does have a few extras that many of his fans may have already heard from other compilations: two tracks from the 70s band Luther that were first issued by Cotillion Records, "May Christmas Bring You Happiness" and "At Christmas Time." Neither is particularly memorable, save as a peek at the development of young Vandross as a singer and songwriter. The disc also includes a live duet with Chaka Khan on "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" that is competent, if unmemorable.

In the end, The Classic Christmas Album should be viewed as another reissue of a great album rather than a new release. Another chapter in Sony's cynical shell game of Vandross's extensive discography, it has no real value outside of that which it recreates for the third time.  Classic Christmas certainly displays  Luther Vandross at his commercial peak, and is worthwhile for those who don't have the original This Is Christmas. For others who already have the 1995 disc, nothing that is added here is remotely essential.   Cautiously Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 
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