SoulTracks Lost Gem: Rare Luther Vandross video highlights reissue

The Luther Vandross estate’s campaign supporting the release of the documentary film, Luther: Never Too Much, continues with this month’s reissue of the legendary singer-songwriter’s 1977 sophomore album recorded with his eponymous group, Luther, This Close to You. In April, the act’s self-titled debut was reissued, and fans are now being treated to elusive performance footage of the quintet performing together one of its beloved singles, “Funky Music (Is a Part of Me).”

The Luther lineup initially included Vandross’ fellow backing vocalists from mid-1970s David Bowie sessions, Anthony Hinton and Diane Sumler, along with Theresa V. Reed and then-future distinguished disco/dance phenom Christine Wiltshire. It’s remarkable after nearly five decades to see some of the group on stage together (notably, Wilshire and Hinton are absent from this clip, and a pre-Chic Alfa Anderson appears). Despite limited video quality due to the source tape (and some odd editing here and there), it’s a revelation to see the liveliness which Vandross’ bandmates embodied on stage in a manner befitting to their vocal vigor.

While “Funky Music” is of a much different vibe than most of Vandross’ universally revered solo catalog of the ‘80s and ‘90s, his interpretive prowess of the driving melody and rhythmic nuances (the tune being his own composition) is unmistakable. In fact, the track and its B-side (“The 2nd Time Around,” also written by him) made the top 40 of Billboard’s R&B Singles chart in ’76. The preceding single, “It’s Good for the Soul,” another fine dancer, had even cracked the top 30. Perhaps a combination of limited promotion and Vandross’ continued commitment to his work as a session and touring support vocalist stifled the prospect of widespread success for Luther.

The reissue of the group’s two LPs was halted several decades ago when Vandross bought back the rights. For longtime fans who have not yet had the chance to take in the quality work of these early showcases of his versatility, “Funky Music” is now a solid starting point. Watching this performance, it’s clear that he was still finding his signature style as a live entertainer. Yet, the unaffected enjoyment he exudes makes that all the more endearing.

by Justin Kantor

Luther

"Funky Music"

Video

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