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COMING back, Vandross taps young writers, producers

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From Luther Vandross' early days as a jingle and background singer to his first R&B chart-topper (1981's ``Never Too Much'') through an ensuing string of R&B/pop hits, the Grammy winner's silky-soul tenor continues to elicit reverential comments. Its subtly powerful resonance has remained consistent throughout his much-publicized weight battle.

``Fortunately, you can't tell. My voice has remained the same,'' acknowledges the now-svelte singer, who also sang lead on the 1980 Change hit ``The Glow of Love,'' which is sampled on the Janet chart-topper ``All for You.''

``When I did `So Amazing' 1/8in 1987 3/8,'' recalls Vandross, ``I had a 34-inch waist. But in 1989 with `Here and Now' and 1991's `Power of Love,' I was over 300 pounds.''

Now, after three years of staying trim _ ``I guess I like Gucci better than McDonald's now'' _ that voice returns June 19 with an eponymous album.

In addition to being his first self-titled effort, the album represents another milestone. With longtime musical colleagues Marcus Miller and Nat Adderley Jr. in tow, the singer also collaborated with an enviable lineup of contemporary producer/songwriters. That circle includes Warryn Campbell, Babyface, Shep Crawford, Harvey Mason Jr. and Damon Thomas (aka The Underdogs), Soulshock & Karlin, Jon B., KayGee, and Next's R.L.

``Luther Vandross'' begins with a cha-cha-rhythmed lead single, ``Take You Out,'' the opening salvo on an album that presents a new-millennium Vandross without sacrificing his stature as one of R&B's premier balladeers _ or alienating core fans by force-feeding a too-hip-for-the-room version of the venerable artist.

On the uptempo ``Grown Thangs,'' its sentiment _ a couple finding time for each other while juggling work and kids _ is reminiscent of his '86 hit ``Stop to Love.'' Not stinting on the ballads, the album offers such choice selections as the tender ``Bring Your Heart to Mine,'' the poignant ``I'd Rather'' and ``Love Forgot.''

In keeping with his penchant for covering classic tunes, Vandross interprets two '60s songs, both co-written by Burt Bacharach: the retitled and reworked ``Are You There (With Another Guy),'' recorded by Dionne Warwick, and ``Any Day Now,'' a hit for Chuck Jackson.

The international version of the album will feature the bonus dance track ``You Really Started Something,'' written by Vandross and Denise Rich.

Vandross wants to tour in the fall once ``people are familiar with the album,'' he says. ``There's nothing like singing live on stage and seeing people accept the music. In fact, I'd love to join Janet on stage and do `Glow of Love' at the end of `All for You.' ``

In the meantime, Vandross wants people to know his new album symbolizes a re-emergence, not a comeback. ``It's a continuation,'' he explains. ``Like Agatha Christie. She wrote different stories, but her theme was the same: murder. It's kind of like that. I still want to murder you with every song.''
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