LUTHER VANDROSS: Hidden Gems (Epic/Legacy)

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The great Luther Vandross died in 2005. He was just 54, and given the marketing ways of the big labels, surprisingly there haven’t been that many reissues, retrospectives or over views. In many ways that’s a good thing because his reputation remains intact, unsullied by crass or tasteless cash ins. Now to tie in with his birthday (April 20th) we do have a new compilation and it’s a wonderful assemblage in keeping with the way his back catalogue been consistently handled.

Put together by family members, the title ‘Hidden Gems’ is most apt. Here, expect no big hits or radio station staples. Rather, the 15 tracker is a collection of seldom-heard album tracks and hard-to-find movie songs. Those film cuts are ‘Heart Of A Hero’ (from 1992’s ‘Hero’, starring Dustin Hoffman), and ‘The Thrill I’m In’ (from 1995’s ‘Money Train’, starring Wesley Snipes). The latter (a Jam/Lewis creation) is the better one with the former a little over-blown because of the demands of the film narrative.

The rest of the album is stuffed with a range of cuts that sadly show what a huge talent we were robbed of at too early an age. Fans will find their own favourites. I kept going back to 1982’s ‘Once You Know How’ and 2001’s ‘I’d Rather’ – a deceptively simple song with a deep message. They show the subtle side of Vandross but if you prefer something a little faster there’s ‘You Really Started Something’ from the Japanese version of the ‘Luther Vandross’ album and the Masters At Work remix of ‘Are You Using Me’.

Finally, and I know this might sound odd, I do know a few people who doubt Luther’s provenance as a proper soul singer. They say he was all technique and smooth gloss. Well, they can be put to flight here by grabbing a listen to the man’s versions of ‘Goin’ Out Of My Head’ or ‘I (Who Have Nothing)’ – both as searing and convincing as anything by the universally acknowledged definers of the genre. But listen, even superficially, to this album and any of the tracks would do a similar job.

(BB) 4/5