Don't count out Luther Vandross. While he's recording for minor labels now -- his last, To Love
, surfaced this year under the independent AMW imprint -- his buttery baritone-tenor, impeccable turn of phrase, and cross-gender appeal make him a perennial. Verging on 50, Vandross still sings like a wounded angel, his voice silken as ever, his phrasing still nonpareil. Twenty-five years ago, style doyen David Bowie pressed Vandross into backup service on Young Americans
, one of the first postmodern pop albums. A few years later, glistening soul groups Change and Chic used him, too, helping build his status as a disco ruler. And 20 years ago, Vandross struck out on his own, becoming nearly as important as Prince and one of their key predecessors, Stevie Wonder. Vandross's vocal style is plush, his attitude debonair. On hits such as "Never Too Much," "Always and Forever," and the brave, upbeat "Here and Now," this well-tailored, uptown New York native strikes a resonant note of hope and perseverance. Think of him as a black analog to Bette Midler, in that he's theatrical and stylistically omnivorous. But Vandross may have lost his recording touch; I Know
is decent pop, largely in a style once associated with Anita Baker and Teddy Pendergrass, but it's too strenuously modern. Trust Vandross's performance to be more natural.