Tasteful but Tame From Vandross : *** LUTHER VANDROSS "Love Power" Epic

Given the scope of Vandross' talent, he should have an armload of Grammys, but for years he was inexplicably ignored while lesser lights walked away with that coveted symbol of musical excellence. This year, the satin-voiced New Yorker finally scored in the best male R&B; vocal category for 1990's "Here and Now," the first crossover hit of his career.

Longtime Vandross fans know that "Here and Now" is not Vandross at his unabashedly emotional best, and there are other songs on this album that follow in that ballad's tasteful but tame lead.

This may be good news for his newly won pop audience, but it probably won't thrill those who have come to expect a greater degree of fire from this artist. Vandross is a soul singer whom other soul singers aspire to be, and it's a shame that he may be watering down his power to earn crossover acclaim.

On the other hand, Vandross proves on "I Who Have Nothing," sung with Martha Wash of C+C Music Factory and Black Box fame, that there's something to be said for restraint. Others have recorded this ballad with the kind of "soulfulness" that borders on campy excess. This version has a subtle poignancy that is haunting and heartbreaking.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five (a classic).

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