It's his fifteenth album in a star-studded career filled with accomplishment and achievement, the much-anticipated follow up to his 2001's platinum-plus eponymous J Records debut. Self-produced, along with longtime associates Nat Adderley Jr. and Marcus Miller, 2003's DANCE WITH MY FATHER finds international superstar Luther Vandross examining aspects of life, love and relationships from different perspectives. The songs don't just have the 'I love you baby' theme. If you listen to the groove music and the overall sound of the music, it's like, 'yes, this is the Luther we know' but you might miss the subtlety and nuances in the songs. If you recited the lyrics that I wrote for this record, you could see that there's something being said.
The subject matter on the ten Luther-penned tunes on DANCE WITH MY FATHER (which features special guests Queen Latifah, Beyonce Knowles, Foxy Brown, Busta Rhymes and Stevie Wonder) is distinctly personal, perhaps more than on any previous collection of Vandross songs. Luther notes, "I have been re-examining the way I write: I didn't want to say anything that was just nifty. I put down some thoughts that I've been having for a while in the songs on this album."
The poignant, reflective title cut is a prime example. "Yes, recording that song was very emotional for me and yes, it is based on my own experience. But, as much as it is that, it isn't about a situation that happened just to me. It's not limited to one type of circumstance in life: it's not just about losing one's father but about missing someone who is gone - for whatever reason - and the longing you feel for that moment in the past when you were together. I called my mother when I first started writing "Dance With My Father" to let her know about it and as soon as we had a first draft of it, I got it to her and she has played it literally every day since. It captures a particular place and suspends you in mid-air. It's my mother and my father dancing to some Baby Washington songs with me right there and the memory of that moment has hovered around me throughout my life ever since."
After writing the song, Luther called Clive Davis, J Records President and CEO: "I said I've written my 'career song,' my Grammy 'Song Of The Year' song! I want to make sure that everyone around me knows that I feel that way. If it was written by Sting or James Taylor, the people around them would understand how those artists would feel that way. I want the people around me to have that same enthusiasm and foresight; in other words, to recognize the song's worthiness, uniqueness, universal appeal and capability to touch ALL audiences."
"If I Didn't Know Better" is vintage Vandross but reflecting another twist on love: "It's about dangerous flirtation! If you know I have feelings for you, don't taunt me." And is it based on anything the man himself has experienced: "Hell, yes, it's a personal situation I've been through!" he responds. Likewise, "Apologize," the story of someone who has worked and accomplished a lot and who can provide material things for the one he loves. Just because he can do that doesn't mean he's any less capable of real love. "Yes, that's a scenario I've experienced. The idea that someone with less materially can provide more emotionally, well, it's just bull."
One of the many standouts on his sophomore J Records album, "They Said You Needed Me" poses an interesting question and reflects Luther's richness of experience. He expounds on the song's carefully-crafted lyric: "So, you've rejected me and all of your friends are telling me that you're depressed but you'd never admit it. You're telling me I've been kicked to the curb and yet you haven't slept for a week. Please! It's like I don't believe you, I don't think you are really over me at all!"
The more tender, intimate side of love is evident in Luther's choice to update the 1978 Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway classic, "The Closer I Get To You". Given the kind of Vandross reading that has turned other songs he's covered - like Dionne Warwick's "A House Is Not A Home" and The Carpenters' "Superstar" - into mandatory pieces in his 'live' performance repertoire, Luther's heartfelt version of the song with Destiny's Child's Beyonce Knowles is pure magic. "I chose the song with Beyonce in mind and she said 'yes,' when I asked her to record it with me," he recalls. "We flipped it - I'm singing Roberta's part and Beyonce is singing the Donny Hathaway part - and working with her was one of the most pleasant experiences I've had. She worked real hard and I was impressed with her musicality: singing with her was like singing with one of the women I grew up listening to. And, of course, Nat Adderley Jr. did a spectangular job on the arrangement and production!"
"The ideas for collaborations on DANCE WITH MY FATHER were totally mine. All the phone calls were made by me," Luther says. "I'm pretty good at musical casting and I knew who was right for each song." The result was Stevie Wonder's distinctive harmonica part on "Once Were Lovers," co-written with longtime friend and musical associate Fonzi Thornton and musician/producer Rex Rideout. Another call brought Oscar nominee Queen Latifah into the studio for "Hit It Again," a straight-ahead groove with a no-nonsense lyric: "I wanted somebody who tells it like it is, someone who could bring it on home. Latifah is so natural and even though I had only met her once before, we really hit off. It was like being in the studio with your cousin! And the lyric? Yes, it's explicit and I'm grown!" Luther laughs.
Labelmate Busta Rhymes added his own special touch to a re-working of Bill Withers 1977 "Lovely Day" which evolved during sessions for the album: "Marcus Miller was working on this track and I started singing pieces of "Lovely Day" and we made it into a new groove. I sent the track to Busta the day before he was due in the studio. The session was for 5:00pm. He walked through the door at 4:54pm and laid it on down. It was great working with him." Working with rap and hip-hop star Foxy Brown on the upbeat "If It Ain't One Thing," was "a downright party!" says Luther. "She creates an atmosphere that's so festive in the studio and she's so sassy! I love her, she's such a good spirit and we had a ball working on the song."
Tunes like "Think About You" mix old school and new school styles while "Right In The Middle" - with an all-star backup vocal unit that includes Cissy Houston, Tawatha Agee, Cindy Mizelle and Brenda White-King - is the kind of soulful tune the legion of die-hard Vandross fans have come to expect from this peerless vocalist. Rounding out DANCE WITH MY FATHER are "Buy Me A Rose," a revival of a Kenny Rogers tune, produced by Shep Crawford.
DANCE WITH MY FATHER is the latest triumph for a singer who like a handful of superstars is immediately identifiable by first name alone. Check Aretha, Whitney, Mariah, Diana and Dionne on the distaff side and when it comes to male vocalists, the list is far shorter. One name towers above the rest in any discussion on black male singers whose impact and influence has been unparalleled. Say the name 'Luther' and record buyers the world over respond immediately. The fact is, Luther Vandross remains the pre-eminent black male vocalist of our time. The five-time Grammy winner, whose cumulative global sales top over 25 million copies, has been offering his distinctive brand of satin smooth vocal magic to international audiences year in and year out for over two decades.
Luther's emergence as a musical master whose style has influenced an entire generation of today's vocalists has been cultivated over two decades of consistent hit-making. Already a successful jingle singer and background vocalist prior to the release of his groundbreaking 1981 debut "Never Too Much," Luther's mainstream breakthrough with the pop Top 10 success of "Here and Now," which reached the pop Top 10 in 1989 and has lived on as a wedding song staple. Prior to that, Luther had amassed an amazing 22 R&B charted singles including such classics as "Give Me The Reason," "Stop To Love" and "There's Nothing Better Than Love," (with Gregory Hines). The momentum continued with more Top 10 hits including "The Power Of Love/ Love Power," "Don't Wanna Be a Fool" (both 1991), "The Best Things In Life Are Free," a Top 10 pop and No. 1 R&B hit duet with Janet Jackson and his 1994 duet with Mariah Carey, "Endless Love" (a No. 2 pop smash). Videos to "Stop to Love," "Any Love" and "Your Secret Love" remain essential contributions to the libraries of both VH1 and BET, while his songs and productions for Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Cheryl Lynn and others measure up against the work of any other pop icon.
To date, Luther has won five Grammy Awards for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance with his #1 R&B / Top Ten Single, "Here and Now," two for Best R&B Song and Best R&B Male Vocal Performance with "Power Of Love / Love Power," and Best R&B Male Vocal Performance for "Your Secret Love." In 2000, Luther was honored with a special BET Walk Of Fame tribute and as brilliant performer who is known for his compelling live shows, Luther has consistently toured and enjoyed sold-out shows year in and year out. And, a first for any black male vocalist, Luther's impressive catalog of fourteen albums have all achieved either platinum or multi-platinum status.
In 2001, after an eighteen-year association with Sony Music and one album for Virgin Records, Luther signed with Clive Davis' then-newly formed J Records label. The initial result of the union was LUTHER VANDROSS which featured some of the New York-born singer, songwriter, producer and vocal arranger's finest performances including the irresistible hit single, "Take You Out," (produced by Warryn Campbell), the soulful ballad "Love Forgot," "Bring Your Heart To Mine" (produced by Kay Gee), the Nat Adderley Jr.-produced revival of Chuck Jackson's "Any Day Now" and production contributions from Babyface, Soulshock & Karlin, Shep Crawford and The Underdogs among others. At the time, Luther noted, "This is the first album I've ever done like this, working with a number of current producers and writers. It's a hybrid of classic Luther and contemporary Luther."
The public responded instantly as Luther took to the road for for a series of key dates, including eight sold-out nights at New York's Radio City Music Hall and a highly successful tour of the U.K., his first in many years, giving audiences a chance to witness Luther's exceptional live show, up close and personal. The net result was another platinum-plus album for Luther's collection and now comes DANCE WITH MY FATHER, a highly personal record which brims with that special Vandross touch. "After doing the last album the way I did, bringing in other producers, I wanted to make this album one that features my own production ideas. I wrote the songs as we went along so it's definitely fresh and reflects where I'm at musically, lyrically and creatively."
Excited about his latest project, Luther pauses to reflect on his years of professional music-making: "Sometimes, I think about my career and I'm thankful that I'm still going strong and I still love singing, recording and performing as much as I ever did. The feeling and love for what I do is still there." Proof positive: DANCE WITH MY FATHER, the latest triumph for one of contemporary pop and R&B's musical core artists.
--- from the official Luther Vandross website