Live: Radio City Music Hall 2003
Two months before he succumbed to a debilitating stroke in April, Luther Vandross recorded his first live album. And it's fortunate he did. We can only hope that the greatest male pop singer of his generation can return to his former glory, but if not, this CD is a triumphant document of his vocal genius. Vandross embraces his classic songbook with staggering power, intimacy and romantic vigor.
Backed by his large touring band, he stays faithful to original renditions of ballads "Here and Now," "Love Won't Let Me Wait," "If Only For One Night," and "Creepin'." He extends his two signature slow songs, "A House is Not a Home" and "Superstar," past 10 minutes, rendering them tour de forces once again. Vandross balances out the single-disc set with uptempo songs "Never Too Much" (the opener) and "Stop to Love," as well as a couple of tunes from his self-titled 2001 disc (after moving from Epic to J Records): the midtempo "Take You Out" and another ballad "I'd Rather." He ends with a song from 1979, the disco-esque "Glow of Love," released when he was the featured singer in a group called Change.
Vandross, 51 at the time of the show, had not lost an iota of vocal chops since breaking out in 1981. Only once, during the second song, "Here and Now," does he show the slightest hint of a struggle reaching a high note, but one could easily attribute that to him warming up. Otherwise, he's flawless. Flawless and supremely soulful, the songs are charged with emotion.
Throughout, Vandross displays his uncanny talent for building crescendos but never pushing them over the top. And he wisely uses many of the vocal fills that are etched in fans' memories, then adds further embellishments that supply new delights. This is an album packed with moments that can raise the hairs on your neck.
Luther Vandross is not for everyone. He sings of love and only love, with a level of sensitivity that some folks interpret as sappy. (Only Vandross could make a plea for a one-nighter, "If Only For One Night," sound chaste.) But if you get Luther's unabashed emotionalism and sentimentality, you get it for life, and that makes Live: Radio City an absolute must-have. 1/2—ERIC SNIDER
JOE STRUMMER & THE MESCALEROS
Here's a posthumous album that lives up to, and even enhances, the artist's legacy. Streetcore was well along the way when Joe Strummer died last December at age 50. Two of the Mescaleros took over production and finished it early this year. The 10-song disc deftly combines Strummer's Clash-style punk sensibilities with his penchant for roots rock and acoustic folk. Streetcore blasts out of the gates with "Coma Girl," an absolutely infectious rocker that probably would have been a hit for The Clash more than two decades ago. Strummer's brawny singing is more tuneful and (using the word loosely) refined than his work with the legendary punk band. The disc ends on a bittersweet note: a cover of the Bobby Charles' chestnut "Before I Grow Too Old" (retitled "Silver and Gold"), on which Strummer laconically muses about all sorts of stuff he needs to do — "Gonna take a trip around the world/ Gonna kiss all the pretty girls — before I grow too old." The song gets a loping country treatment with high-lonesome harmonica and fiddle. In between, there's the dub-inflected "Go Down Moses," several moody ballads and charged-up rock numbers, and two pieces produced by Rick Rubin and featuring Strummer backed by acoustic guitar. A version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" is delivered ragged and threadbare. "Long Shadow," an original, has an old-timey folk melody and thoughtful lyrics that act as a kind of statement of purpose. The song ends, appropriately, with the lines, "Somewhere in my soul ... There's always rock and roll." 1/2—ERIC SNIDER
Two well-remembered acts from East Tampa's fertile early '90s hardcore scene finally get anthologized, courtesy of a couple of reputable Hillsborough County labels. Both volumes include everything released (or possibly even recorded) by each band; bonuses include a couple of less-than-stellar covers from desperate dirge-core pioneers Scrog, and a recent reunion set from social insurgents Failure Face.
Scrog's mournful and often glacially paced groovecore presaged any number of punk-influenced stoner bands to come. Their style has held up considerably better over time than that of comparatively straightforward, slightly metal-tinged contemporaries Failure Face. Discrography, whose most recent track dates back eight years, still sounds both fully realized and ahead of the curve (throwaway cover of The Smith's "The Queen is Dead" notwithstanding). Highlights include just about everything, but particularly "Both Hands Open" and live favorite "Speak." While Complete Failure is by no means a complete loss (check "I Won" and the absolutely killer "All Pain No Gain"), it's definitely more dated, and sure to appeal more to old-schoolers and new hardcore fans interested in the genre's roots. www.new granada.com, www.soundideadistribution.com.
Complete Failure: —Scott Harrell
A Cappella Dreams
Since 2000, The Persuasions have released a cappella albums of music by the Beatles, Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa. The venerable quintet's '03 offering is a mixed bag: gospel; soul and R&B from various eras ("Ain't No Sunshine," "Dock of the Bay," "Rainy Night in Georgia," "Please Send Me Someone to Love," and others); three songs from the Elvis Presley canon ("In the Ghetto," "Good Luck Charm" and "Don't"); and ad hoc curios like Tom Jones' "She's a Lady." Fifteen songs in all, filled with soulful charm and rich, rough-hewn harmonies. And not a bass or a drum (machine) or guitar or synth to be heard. Just voices, glorious voices joining together street-corner-style. —ERIC SNIDER