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LUTHER VANDROSS

(J)

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Vandross, a steady and sugary crooner whose solo career began 20 years ago, takes command again, after numerous CDs lost in the glare of Babyface, Keith Sweat, and R. Kelly, voices more dramatic, more physical, and more tortured than his. Why notice him this time? Surely itís not because his crooning still recalls the voice of Sam Cooke far too closely. Maybe itís the way the touch of middle age has deepened his baritone and given it, in consoling love songs like "Iíd Rather" and "Bring Your Heart to Mine," a brittle big-daddy-ish edge. Maybe itís the disco-era (his birthright ó who can forget his classic work as the voice of disco studio group Change?) funk and funky-ness of songs like "Grown Thangs" and "Say It Now." Or maybe itís the urbanity with which he makes utterly un-urbane red-clay soul songs like "Hearts Get Broken All the Time (The Trouble Is, This Time Itís Mine)" entirely his own. And donít ignore the contribution of Clive Davis, the egotistical genius who, like Jerry Wexler before him, coaxes from every singer he touches the maximum of what makes that singer special. Which in Vandrossís case means the return of a veteran disco imaginer to the inner world of delicate loving, tiptoe dancing, and perfect reconciliation.

BY MICHAEL FREEDBERG

Issue Date: January 31 - February 7, 2002
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