The lineup here is spectacular, if a little too
predictible; all classic soul artists who inspired Vandross like Aretha
Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle and Aretha Franklin or young guns who
were influenced by Luther like Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Beyoncé, John
Legend and Angie Stone. It might have been nice to have a little more
diversity, maybe longtime friends and collaborators from other styles like David Bowie or
Richard Marx, or some of Vandross' contemporaries like Peabo Bryson, James
Ingram, Jeffrey Osborne, Teddy Pendergrass, George Benson or Al Jarreau.
American Idol winner Fantasia
does a surprisingly good and rather restrained (for her) version of "Til My
Baby Comes Home." Celine Dion also curbs her melodrama with a
sweetly sung version
of his final hit, "Dance For My Father." Aretha Franklin, on the other
hand, completely oversings "A House Is Not A Home" (and she also indulges in
talking about Vandross at the beginning of the song.). A studio created
"duet" between Vandross and Elton John on "Anyone Who Had A Heart" works
much better. Musically, the recordings are mostly stellar, though
inevitably just a bit too faithful to the originals. Mary J. Blige
completely nails Vandross' breakthrough single "Never Too Much" (though the
spoken-word intro about Luther being a breath of fresh air on radio is a bit
over-the-top; you're showing us Mary, you don't have to tell us.).
Usher smolders through "Superstar" and
You almost feel bad for complaining about a collection
that was so obviously born of great love and respect. One of the problems about doing a tribute album for Vandross, however, is that he was an interpretive singer who was well known
for his own remakes of his favorite tracks. Therefore, ten of these fifteen tunes were written
by other artists and more than half of the tracks on this disk are better known for other
people's recordings. We have the odd dynamic of a tribute
album where people are covering Luther Vandross covering Dionne Warwick ("A
House Is Not a Home" and "Anyone Who Had A Heart"), the Carpenters
("Superstar"), Marvin Gaye ("If This World Were Mine"), Stevie Wonder
Heatwave ("Always & Forever") and Major Harris ("Love Won't Let Me Wait").
Vandross was a terrific songwriter as well, and more of the many popular
songs that were actually written by him would be appreciated. "Don't
Wanna Be A Fool," "Stop to Love," "Give Me the Reason," "Bad Boy," "Any
Love" and "There's Nothing Better Than Love" all spring quickly to mind.
There really should be more than five Vandross-penned tunes here.