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A HOPEFUL ROMANTIC : In the '90s, Can Luther Vandross Get More Mileage Out of This Love Thing? You Bet!

January 13, 1994|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition

If for some reason you feel you can't stomach hearing a love song tonight, our advice is to keep well clear of Anaheim Arena.

Luther Vandross is here, and the titles in his discography tell the whole story.

When Vandross summed up his highly successful first decade of pop-R&B crooning with a 1989 best-of compilation, he titled it "The Best of Luther Vandross, The Best of Love" as if "Luther" and "Love" were interchangeable.

That collection included songs called "The Glow of Love," "Stop to Love," "There's Nothing Better Than Love," "Any Love" and "Love Won't Let Me Wait." For 10 points, guess what the songs that didn't have "love" in the title were about.

In case anyone thought a new decade would raise a new subject for the suave Vandross, he dubbed his first album of the decade "Power of Love."

And now he's back with "Never Let Me Go," which, like all nine of his previous solo releases, has topped the million mark in sales. The offerings include "Love Me Again," "Love Is On the Way (Real Love)" and a cover of the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love."

How has a singer with just one thing on his mind kept such a big audience for so long?

Well, love is a fairly popular subject. And Vandross has a classy way of approaching it--contrary to what we hear too often from a younger generation of arduous R&B singers.

If Vandross utters the word "hoe" from the stage, it will probably mean that he has decided to tell an anecdote about gardening. If he grabs his crotch, the reason no doubt will be a sudden and painful groin-muscle pull.

Vandross' following is built around women who want to hear his ultra-romantic take on love (and no doubt some canny fellows who know that music is the food of you-know-what). It's interesting to note how Vandross consistently puts the women in his songs in a position of power, and how the love he extols is consistently of the romantic, lasting variety, and not the one-night quickie shot of hormonal relief.

Vandross can be heard pleading and beseeching throughout the album, begging his lovers' consent to keep troubled romances going. It's not only their bodies he craves, but the chance to prove that he is a constant, respectful lover who knows that sex alone does not constitute "The Best of Love."

(In a business-sector parallel to the scenario of many of his songs, Vandross recently sued for divorce from his longtime record company, Epic, only to patch things up and return to the label. He received his own custom label, LV Records, as a let's-make-up gift.)

It's telling that when Vandross took a vocal-tandem turn with Frank Sinatra on "The Lady Is a Tramp," the leadoff track on Ol' Blue Eyes' recent "Duets" album, they changed the word "tramp" to "champ." Vandross does not like to sing ill of women. The late Conway Twitty took a similar approach in his long career as a country balladeer, and he never had a hard time mustering an audience.

Vandross isn't afraid of sharing a concert bill with women who are strong performers and strong personalities. During the '80s, his touring partners included Patti LaBelle and Anita Baker. Now his opening act is Oleta Adams, who after just two albums has won wide acclaim for the depth of feeling in her delivery, and for her ability both as a singer and a pianist.

In addition to a common calling as romantic singers, Vandross and Adams both got early career boosts from British rock stars.

Vandross, who grew up in New York City, hooked up with David Bowie in 1974, serving as vocal arranger and backing singer on Bowie's "Young Americans" album and subsequent tours. That kicked off a busy period as a backing singer for such stars as Bette Midler, Carly Simon and Chaka Khan. After fronting a group called Luther, Vandross launched his solo career in 1981.

Adams, from Yakima, Wash., was performing in a hotel bar in Kansas City when the band Tears for Fears happened upon her. That led to a featured role on a subsequent Tears for Fears album and tour. Adams' 1990 debut album, "Circle of One," was a success, and touring with Michael Bolton helped establish her and showed that she was at home in big venues.

Her new release, "Evolution," is another tasty mix of pop and R&B.

Who: Luther Vandross.

When: Today, Jan. 13, at 7:30 p.m., with Oleta Adams.

Where: Anaheim Arena, 2695 E. Katella Ave.

Whereabouts: From the Orange (57) Freeway, exit at Ball Road and drive east. Turn right on Auto Center Drive.

Wherewithal: $25.

Where to call: (714) 704-2500 (box office) or (714) 740-2000 (TicketMaster).

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