Various Artists

So Amazing: An All-Star Tribute to Luther Vandross

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They weren't kidding when they put "All-Star" in the subtitle, but the most satisfying thing about this big-name tribute to the late Luther Vandross is how many of these "All-Stars" let their guard down, expressing both genuine grief over the loss of R&B's most likeable fellows and jubilation over his music, which spoke to so many people, offered a rich blend of influences, and had a warm, soulful grace both in its writing and delivery. Mary J. Blige captures everyone's first encounter with the great "Never Too Much" with a bit of dialog before launching into one of her warmest, most elegant performances. The grief of Aretha Franklin on "A House Is Not a Home" is monolithic, while fellow diva Patti LaBelle hits every "I need you now" in "Here & Now" with touching despair, inferring loss over lyrics that deal with comfort and "always being there." His smoky performance on "Love Won't Let Me Wait" just proves how great a "John Legend: With Strings" album would be, while Angie Stone and "Since I Lost My Baby" is the perfect marriage of singer and song. Well-dressed, finger-snappin' numbers from Jamie Foxx, Fantasia, and Beyoncé with Stevie Wonder capture Luther's big smile while Donna Summer recalls his disco roots with a dancefloor "Power of Love." Add Alicia Keys and Jermaine Paul sounding epic on "If This World Were Mine" and you've got enough highlights to ignore Celine Dion's maudlin "Dance with My Father" and Elton John's misguided Joe Cocker impersonation on "Anyone Who Had a Heart," another "duet" with the deceased made possible through Pro-Tools. Besides these minor annoyances, So Amazing is meatier than most tributes, with deeply grateful performances that not only capture the spirit of Luther but do an excellent job of bringing his widespread influence to the surface.

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