Luther Vandross is someone whom I’ve come to view as the 80’s era Smokey Robinson. His focus was on the sensitive male soul singer of the 70’s era Thom Bell variety. At the same time, he over a decade of experience as a backup singer before his performance on the band Change’s song “The Glow Of Love”. This in turn led to his solo debut album in 1981’s Never Too Much. This album turns 35 today. Vandross had a difficult time crossing over throughout his life. But this debut is one of his most defining for many reasons. Here’s an Amazon.com review I wrote five years ago about some of those reasons.
Considering that,similar in manner to the career of Huey Lewis that it took over a decade for the musical career of Luther Vandross to really take off it may also come as no surprise I also got into him rather late. My first exposure to this album came from a cassette tape I found at a yard sale almost a decade and a half ago. At the time what I knew of Luther’s musical accomplishments came from books. Honestly? The album had a pretty near instant appeal when I first heard it.
Considering the fact I was at that point already deeply interest in early 80’s post-disco urban funk/soul and the music of Marcus Miller for that matter,that too was a plus. Two things surprise me. For one,I apparently haven’t reviewed this album I’ve listened to many many times before. Not only that but in the time I’ve listened to this on both tape and CD how much every part of it just gets better and better with the passing of time.
Especially considering the late Vandross’s reputation as a balladeer the music on this album is primarily based in uptempo urban funk. It’s full of great guitar/bass interaction and plenty of heavy popping bass from Marcus Miller. The title song is a great debut hit for Vandross,sophisticated jazzy funk/soul pop with a great guitar line,a popping bass,terrific arrangement and powerful hook.
Even though it wasn’t a hit,the major key “Suger And Spice” has a really heavy bass/guitar rhythm and some great soul/gospel type back round chorus including Vandross himself. “I’ve Been Working” blends in this album Donald Fagen type rock and soul shuffle with one of Vandross’s most powerful vocals on the whole album. “She’s A Super Lady” is basically “Jump To It” mark 1,with this great drum/bass funk break at the beginning from Marcus and Buddy Williams.
While the slow funk grooves of “Don’t You Know That” and “You Stopped Loving Me” are the best slower numbers here to me I’ve actually warmed up a lot to “A House Is Not A Home”. This elongated cover is actually very tastefully and sparingly done,with Vandross actually incorporating some near acapella and bittersweet vocal breaks,particularly near the end. For a debut album this is very effective. It’s fully arranged even though it primarily emphasizes the music of the five core musicians involved.
Not only that but it’s a true showcase for Vandross’s writing and producing talents. Because of the sensitive and sassy nature of his writing,his style in that area lent itself very well (stereotypically that is) to producing for female talent. Most famously Aretha Franklin. And while I enjoy all of Luther’s music on different levels,this album still holds a special place in my heart. And I am sure many others as well.
One of the things about this album that keeps endearing it to me is how much it focuses on Luther Vandross: the funk based post disco soul/pop uptempo artist. For one thing,big time jazz/funk players such as Nat Adderley Jr. and slap bazz maestro Marcus Miller are all over this album. And mixed up high on all these songs. While the melodic singability of Vandross’s writing,producing and arranging are all over this album,its truly amazing how much he was making gospel drenched soul and funk the major priority on his very first solo album. And that’s why its such a special album to me,for what it is.