November 9th, 2007
Title: Love, Luther
Artist: Luther Vandross
Label: Epic/J Records/Legacy
Catalog No.: 88697 11856 2
Since the tragic death of Luther Vandross in 2005, a number of compilations and reissues have been rushed into release. The best to date is the new 4 CD, 56 track box set, Love, Luther, an Epic/J Records/Legacy collaboration, which spans the years 1973-2003 and includes all of his great R&B chart-topping classics originally released on the Epic, J Records, RCA, Cotillion, Columbia, Arista, Polydor, N2K, Capitol and Virgin labels.
In addition to offering a “best of” selection of Vandross’ hits, Love, Luther throws in just enough rarities to entice a buyer who might already own many of these songs. There are several tracks not previously issued on CD, including “Who’s Gonna Make It Easier For Me” (a fabulous 1973 duet with soul singer Delores Hall) and “Funky Music Is a Part of Me” (from the 1976 LP by his vocal group Luther). Also included are several tracks from live performances released on the DVDs Live at Wembley and Always & Forever: An Evening of Songs at The Royal Albert Hall. But most notable are the previously unreleased tracks, including the demos that open the set, “Ready for Love” and “If You Can’t Dance.” Other gems include three previously unreleased songs from the Montserrat sessions, recorded at AIR studios in the West Indies in 1986—“There’s Only You,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” and “So Amazing.” And the grand finale which closes the set is a seven-minute version (an alternate take) of the Dionne Warwick classic “A House Is Not a Home,” recorded live at Radio City Music Hall, just two months before his career ending stroke.
There are many other highlights to be found on the album. One of my personal favorites is “The Lady is a Tramp,” a duet with the great Frank Sinatra backed up by a smoking jazz combo (though granted this is more Frank than Luther). Several other duets are featured on the set, including “How Many Times Can We Say Goodby” with Dionne Warwick (1983), the smash hit “Endless Love” with Mariah Carey (1994), and “The Closer I Get To You” with Beyoncé (2004). Another favorite is Aretha Franklin singing the Vandross penned “Jump to It” (from the 1982 album of the same title), which serves to remind us that he composed and arranged songs for many other artists that went straight to the top of the R&B charts. Finally, there is a representative sample of his more famous covers, such as Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party,” the Temptations’ “Since I Lost My Baby,” Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” and his reinterpretations of several Stevie Wonder songs. The American Idol generation should take note—when Simon Cowell says “make it your own,” this is what he’s talking about!
The box set is accompanied by a handsome and exceptionally well-illustrated 58 page booklet featuring liner notes by Ernest Hardy, as well as a 54-year career timeline by Brian Chin. The first seventeen pages of the booklet detail each individual track, and though in most cases the information is complete, there are a number of inconsistencies. For example, the recording dates for the first two tracks (the unreleased demos) are inexplicably omitted (come on- couldn’t anyone figure this out?). In fact, recording dates are seldom provided, though the year of release is included about 50% of the time, and in any case can easily be determined since the copyright date is provided. Composers, arrangers, producers, and (occasionally) featured musicians follow each track listing, but the majority of session musicians and back-up singers are credited together on one page, with no indication as to which songs they are featured on. On the plus side, chart positions are frequently included, which will be of interest to many.
Buyers should also be aware that two packaging options are available: a deluxe tri-fold 10” book-size version, and a compact CD slip-case version. I have the tri-fold version, which is indeed a very nice package, but with one rather annoying flaw. The box includes a “dust jacket” that provides all of the pertinent information (summary on front, track listings on verso, title/publisher number on spine). However, the jacket is completely loose (more of a wrapper, really), without any front or back flaps to secure it to the box. Perhaps it was meant to be a “throw-away,” but since it provides a succinct overview of the contents, buyers (especially collectors) will wish to find some way to preserve it. Wouldn’t it be nice if designers would take such issues into consideration?
For those who don’t already own a good selection of Vandross’ recordings, Love, Luther is a “must have.” Not only does it provide the best overview of his remarkable career, it is far more complete than any of the other compilations released since his death, including Essential Plus (2005), The Collection (2005), and the single disc Ultimate Luther Vandross (2006). And don’t let the title fool you—this isn’t just a collection of ballads and love songs, but covers everything from soul to Motown with a smattering of jazz thrown in. If you aren’t already a Luther Vandross fan, then this collection should go a long way towards convincing you that Luther was one of the greatest R&B singers/composers/arrangers of the past two or three decades.
Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
Review Genre(s): Rhythm & Blues, Soul, Funk