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Various Artists: Forever, for Always, for Luther

With apologies to Barry White, no one was sexier than the late Luther Vandross. He has two posthumous singles on the charts, and earlier this year, So Amazing, an R&B tribute CD released just months after his death in 2005, picked up several Grammys.

But it was back in 2004, when Luther was ill, that GRP released the first Luther tribute CD with several of his smooth-jazz friends, spawning a couple of big hits. It’s no surprise, then, that the second smooth-jazz installment of Luther’s greatest hits has now been released by Rendezvous, the label co-founded by saxophonist Dave Koz. Once again, it’s enjoyable and packed with superstars, several of whom appeared on the first offering. Of note is saxophonist Kirk Whalum, a good friend of Luther’s who frequently performed with him and was said to be his favorite saxophonist. Whalum nails it with a languid take on “Give Me the Reason.” Another of Luther’s good friends, Patti Austin, sounds as good as ever on the heartbreakingly beautiful “So Amazing.”

So many instrumental CDs today are straight readings of an artist’s favorite cover songs, which is this one so special. Hearing Norman Brown’s sweet guitar take the melody of “Till My Baby Comes Home” and Jeff Lorber do the same on “For You to Love” brings new life of these great songs. But when Vandross is channeled vocally, it’s scary. Whalum’s brother Kevin sounds like a younger version of the legend on “There’s Nothing Better Than Love” and makes you wonder why he isn’t snatched up by a record label looking for the new Urban AC superstar. And Will Downing, whose singing is regularly compared to Vandross’, makes you believe the master has returned for one more song with “Superstar.”

Originally Published