by Michael P Coleman

Ruben StuddardThe wait is almost over.

Grammy nominated R&B, pop and gospel singer Ruben Studdard, who was hailed as “the next Luther Vandross” during his triumphant American Idol run almost two decades ago, is finally releasing an album of Vandross covers.  Ruben Sings Luther: A Tribute will be released March 16. 

Studdard teased this project a few years ago, with a fantastic cover of “If This World Were Mine,” with Lalah Hathaway standing in for the original’s Cheryl Lynn, and he covered Luther’s “Superstar” years ago.  But to take on an entire album of Vandross covers?  Studdard deserves a standing ovation just for giving it a go, as Luther was unquestionably a peerless vocal powerhouse. 

“My goal was to not only pay tribute to Luther but to add my own passion on top of Luther’s brilliant songs,” Studdard said of the new album.  “I often sang different Luther songs during my live shows.  But people always asked when I was going to do an album of Luther’s songs.  Happily the day has arrived.” 

“I am so proud of this record,” Studdard continued.  “It was a thrilling experience selecting the songs from Luther’s different albums and putting my own interpretation on them.”

I’ll take Studdard at his word that recording this new album was “thrilling,” but I can attest to the fact that listening to it was absolutely so.  Ruben Sings Luther: A Tribute delivers 10 almost reverent Vandross covers.  Stunningly, in at least a couple of cases, Studdard improves upon the originals.

And for those in northern California, the news is even better:  Studdard has added a Sacramento stop to his 22 city tour in support of the new album.  Always And Forever: An Evening Of Luther Vandross Starring Ruben Studdard comes to Sacramento’s Crest Theatre on Sunday, April 8. 

I’m one of the Luther fans who never got to see him in concert, and friends have always insisted that I missed quite a show!  Luckily, Studdard is ready to recreate that experience during his upcoming tour. 

“We are not only recreating some of the production elements, musicians, background singers, wardrobe and lighting that were ever present when Luther took the stage, but my heart and soul will be in every note I sing as I honor one of the greatest vocalists we’ve ever had.” 

After listening to this new album, it’s easy for me to take Studdard’s word for that, too! 

Click here for tickets to Studdard’s upcoming Sacramento show. Tickets for the Sacramento show and all other performances are available at Ticketmaster.  

Look to The Hub next week for more information on the upcoming Ruben Sings Luther: A Tribute album, including our EXCLUSIVE interview with Ruben Studdard!  

 Connect with Sacramento-based freelancer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com or follow him on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP.

By Michael P Coleman

Mathis roseI had an opportunity to witness a couple of miracles last night at the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa.  The first was the venue itself.  I learned that, miraculously, most of the facility survived last year’s raging fires.  It’s truly a gem of a venue, and it was great to learn that audiences can continue to look forward to a variety of phenomenal performances by world-class entertainers. 

And it’s that’s not a perfect descriptor for the incomparable Johnny Mathis, who graced the stage there last night, I don’t know what is. 

In fact, Mathis’ performance, a part of his The Voice Of Romance tour, was the night’s second miracle.  The 82 year old legend appeared roughly half of his age as he effortlessly whipped through a two hour performance for an adoring, near capacity crowd. 

His voice was virtually unscathed by the ravages of time, and his boyish enthusiasm for his craft was infectious.  This was particularly surprising, as it’s easy for performers of his generation to appear bored as they traipse through static set lists, or performances that appear to be more cake walks that class acts. 

Not Mathis.  I’ve seen him in concert a half a dozen times in as many years, and guess what?  He’s presented a different show every time.  Last night, he charmingly started the show with an inspirational “Life Is A Song Worth Singing” from his sterling I’m Coming Home album, followed by a declaration worthy of someone who’s been giving us his unadulterated best for over 60 years. 

“We’re going to sing and play our hearts out tonight,” Mathis said, “and I’m going to sing a few songs that will prompt you to wonder ‘Where the heck did he find THAT one?’  But they’re all lovely songs that I love to sing, and I hope, somewhere along the way, you’ll find one or two that you enjoy.” 

One or two?  Is that modesty or what?  “It’s Not For Me To Say.”  “Chances Are.”  “99 Miles From LA.”  “Misty.”  “Gina.”  “Betcha By Golly Wow.”  “I’m Stone In Love With You.”  They were all there, along with a stunning, pitch-perfect version of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” that took on new urgency coming from the now-octogenarian and left his audience begging for more. 

If there was a disappointment to the night, it was that Mathis didn’t perform any songs from his most recent album, last year’s exceptional Johnny Mathis Sings The Great New American Songbook.  But frankly, after the decades of musical joy he’s brought to his millions of fans, Mathis has earned the right to sing whatever he wants to sing. 

“You ask how long I’ll love you / I’ll tell you true / Until the 12th of never / I’ll still be loving you,” Mathis beautifully sang, during one of the night’s many intimate moments.  He seemed to be singing directly to us, and I can absolutely assure you that everyone in that audience felt the same way about him. 

If you want to remember a musical era that’s largely in the rear view mirror, catch Johnny Mathis in concert.  And take someone you love — or someone you want to love — with you.

Information on Johnny Mathis is available at johnnymathis.com.  

 

 Connect with Sacramento-based freelancer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com or follow him on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP.

 

dianaross eblast

By Michael P Coleman

Over 50 years after her first Billboard #1 record, the iconic Diana Ross scores another #1 — with a song that she recorded back in 1970!                

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough 2017,” a remix of the multi-format chart-topper from her eponymous debut solo album, sits at the top spot on Billboard’s dance chart this week.  Not very many artists enjoy a #1 record over half a century after releasing a debut album, as Ross did with 1961’s Meet The Supremes

According to Billboard, it’s the 73-year-old Ross’ first #1 on the Dance chart in over 22 years, when she topped the chart with 1995’s “Take Me Higher.”  The remix is featured on a new collection of Ross’, Diamond Diana.   The achievement comes just days after the superstar made international headlines by partying at one of the world’s most popular gay nightclubs, The Abbey, in West Hollywood. 

Cher, eat your heart out. 

The original masterpiece is a six minute opus that includes dramatic spoken word segments interspersed with the emotive, gorgeous soprano that had become Ross’ calling card.  The remix’s current success is a testament not just to Ross’ staying power and tremendous talent, but to the original hit, written and produced by the legendary Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson.

In a rare interview, Simpson said she was thrilled by the song’s current success. 

“I’m beaming, I’m smiling,” Simpson said by phone from her home in New York.  “I’m happy that long past my lifetime ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ will continue to touch people and move them as it has proven to do. We didn’t think it would last 50 years, much less wherever else it’s going!” 

“Diana is right — great songs DO last forever — and I’m thrilled to be a part of this,” Simpson continued.  “But we also had a great carrier.  You can’t do much better than Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrill [who recorded the original version in 1967] and then Diana Ross, somebody who can carry the message.  If it had been sung by someone unknown, perhaps the world wouldn’t have gotten to know the song.  So we owe her a debt of gratitude that she was such a fantastic carrier, and that she continues to carry that song and that message.” 

Simpson suggested that the stars aligned with the partnership between her, Ashford and Ross on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” 

“Everything in it’s time, and that was the right time,” Simpson said.  “We caught Diana at a great time in her life, because she was leaving The Supremes and she wanted to step out on her own.  It’s funny when a song helps you do that.  We pushed her as far as we could push her [in the studio], we made sure her keys had her voice sounding bright, and the message of that song is still the same as it was 50 years ago.” 

“In terms of the political climate that we’re in, we may need it more than we did then,” Simpson continued.  “We have to be strong about who we are and what we’re standing for, and we’ve got to stand for something.  So ‘ain’t no mountain high enough’ right now!” 

With today’s mercurial music business, who knows what tomorrow will bring (a new recording contract for Ross, perhaps)?  But for now, the First Lady of Motown is enjoying her latest #1 record.  Hat’s off to the timeless Diana Ross and Valerie Simpson!  Ain’t no mountain high enough, indeed! 

Connect with freelance writer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com or on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP.

benjaminpatterson eblastYou’ve undoubtedly heard of that mythic “jack of all trades,” that person who seems to do everything well? Well, I just met him — and as it turns out, his name’s not “Jack” — it’s Ben. Benjamin Patterson, to be exact, and he’s one of those guys who makes the mortals among us completely nuts.

Patterson, 42, is an actor. He’s also a model. And a photographer. AND a musician. And he juggles all of that from his beautiful home in Los Angeles that she shares with his husband, Mike Moody, and their two year old son, Zachary.

Patterson is also almost unbelievably down to earth and accessible, warmly recalling meeting Moody almost 18 years ago.

Click here to read MPC’s full Huffington Post feature, including Patterson’s path to fatherhood, stories of his brushes with entertainment titans Oprah Winfrey and Shonda Rhimes, and his key to living your best life!  

newyearseveworst

The last week of December provides a special kind of torture for many of us. Hannukah and Christmas are over, but it’s not time to go back to real life just yet. There’s one more so-called “holiday” ahead, just waiting to be a disappointment to perennially hopeful revelers. I’m talking, of course, about New Year’s Eve.

For the full story, visit NBCNews.com/Think.

fantasiachristmas

by Michael P Coleman

I don’t want to be a Grinch about it, but I get nervous when my favorite artists release Christmas records.

Many singers forego timeworn holiday favorites in favor of original material, and often wind up producing mediocre, forgettable projects.  Very few people deliver a song like Mariah Carey’s 1994 “All I Want For Christmas Is You” that stands the test of time. 

On the other hand, recording Christmas standards is risky, as those songs have been covered and sung for decades and are often associated with legends.  Artists are challenged to put their own stamp on them without sounding dated. 

Congrats to Fantasia for showing us how it’s done. 

The singer’s gorgeous new Christmas After Midnight is the album you’ll want to play after the kids have stopped pining away for a Christmas hippopotamus.  She dedicated the album to her grandmother, whose birthday was on Christmas Day.

“She’s gone home now,” says Fantasia of her grandmother, “but she played a very big part in my life and career. She loved people so much and gave more than she received—which is what my favorite holiday is all about.”

Christmas After Midnight offers a seamless blend of the spiritual, secular, and sprightly,  with her reverential “Silent Night” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” coming across almost as prayers.

Fantasia’s simmering, subdued “Give Love On Christmas Day” (originally recorded by The Jackson Five) is a very pleasant surprise.  Her plaintive “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” restores both the original lyric and the pathos, rivaling Judy Garland’s classic.  And she reminds us that she knows how to party during the holidays, delivering a joyful version of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” and, with CeeLo Green, a playful “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” 

Through it all, Christmas After Midnight is a smoky, mature album on which Fantastia displays vocal restraint, a side of her we don’t always get to hear.  The record also features a side of Fantasia we don’t always get to see — on the cover!  With just a glance, you’ll realize that this album is for grown folks! 

‘Tasia!  Damn!  Put some clothes on! 

"My husband loved the cover,” Fantasia laughed.  “But I also sent the photo to my mother-in-law, my best friend along with my mother. My mother-in-law said she loved it. Still I asked, are you sure?  She said stop thinking like that. it’s classy and beautiful."

Fantasia’s classy, beautiful Christmas After Midnight deserves a spot in your holiday music collection.  Dim the lights, pour some wine, and let the (reindeer) games begin. 

Fantasia’s Christmas After Midnight is available at retail and digitally.

 

Connect with Sacramento-based freelancer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com or on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP. 

 

 
Johnny Mathis, Babyface Collaborate On Brilliant New Albumby Michael P Coleman

After over six decades of thrilling his fans with almost 80 albums, it must have been at least a bit daunting for the legendary Johnny Mathis to go into the studio to record a new project that might stand the test of time.

Daunting or not, Mathis and the equally legendary Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds have done just that with the beautiful new Johnny Mathis Sings The Great New American Songbook. The brainchild of music industry legend Clive Davis, the new album features 11 masterpieces that were introduced to fans of great music via singers like Adele, Whitney Houston, R Kelly, Pharrell, and Bruno Mars.

Mathis’ new album was over two years in the making. The legend said quite a lot of work went into it — with some of it coming before he’d sung a single note. As he recalled the song selection process, Mathis’ love and respect for Davis was obvious.

“Clive wanted hits, titles that people will know about, and he’s interested in selling records. I’m interested in whether I can sing the song or not,” Mathis laughed by phone. “Clive’s list went from the sublime to the ridiculous! So it was a lot of give and take. I’ve still got my little boy attitude about what I really like to sing. I have to be shoved a little bit one way or the other, and that’s good.”

That shoving was was very good for the legend’s fans, as Johnny Mathis Sings The Great New American Songbook is one the singer’s absolute best. Babyface echoed Mathis in recalling Davis’ influence on the project.

For the full story, please visit TheHuffingtonPost.com.

By Michael P Coleman

During a two-hour performance before a capacity crowd at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center, superstar Janet Jackson reaffirmed her place among pop music royalty.  The diva is back:  svelte, sassy, sexy, and still in control. 

janet opening mainTaking the stage around 8:35pm, Jackson ferociously launched into the first of two lesser-known songs from 1989’s phenomenal Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 album, “The Knowledge” and “State Of The World.”  The latter was the inspiration for her current tour, and both were reminders that Jackson was well ahead of her time with that album. 

Both songs morphed perfectly into a hit from her latest Unbreakable album, “Burnitup.”  A rapid succession of high energy favorites followed, including “Nasty” (with the unforgettable “Miss Jackson if you’re nasty” line), “Miss You Much,” “Alright,” and “You Want This.” 

After that last one, Jackson bellowed — in a much huskier speaking voice than her trademark falsetto — “Sacramento!  Do you want more? DO YOU WANT MORE?”  We let her know, in no uncertain terms, that we did.  And Jackson delivered, performing virtually every hit you’d want to hear, with vocals that appeared live and very much on par with her recordings. 

Jackson was never considered a heavyweight as a vocalist, always in the shadow of contemporaries like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.  While that somewhat handicapped her early in her career, it’s actually served her well down the road.  Jackson’s hits never included vocal pyrotechnics that she has to try to match decades later.  And while each may have bested Jackson vocally, neither could have held a candle to her in the live performance department. 

Could this be the same Jackson who wowed us in the video for “The Pleasure Principle?”  Yes — and she recreated that iconic “back against the wall” choreography on stage. Could this be the same Jackson who flashed that megawatt smile in her “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” video?  Yes, and the smile is still piercing and holds up to comparison.  We know because Jackson played segments of the original video on a large screen above the stage while she sang it.  The singer looked great and she knew it, as it took a lot of confidence to show a video from 1990 to her fans last night.  If anything, Jackson looks and sounds better than ever. 

Other concert highlights included a moment of silence for victims in Puerto Rico and Las Vegas (although, embarrassingly, some fans violated the moment with screams of “I love you, Janet”), a powerful performance of her anti-domestic violence opus “What About,” and driving renditions of “Together Again” and “Rhythm Nation.”  I’d forgotten how many hits that girl has! 

Back in the day, some critics wrote Jackson off as a studio creation that was only successful because of her lineage and production team, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.  While Jam & Lewis undoubtedly handed Jackson dozens of carefully-crafted pop and R & B masterpieces, one must recall that they did the same for many other artists, most of whom aren’t recording or performing today, let alone selling out arenas nationwide.  Whatever that “it factor” is, Jackson’s got it.  And one need only ask LaToya whether being Michael Jackson’s sister is enough to get the job done.

Last night’s show was a welcome reminder of Jackson’s unquestionable talent and the impact she’s had in the entertainment industry.  And if you listened closely during last night’s show, well beneath the screams of tens of thousands of Jackson’s adoring fans, you could faintly hear the sound, from a distance, of Beyoncé’s gentle sobs.

Connect with Sacramento-based freelancer Michael (“Mr. Coleman” if you’re nasty) at www.michaelpcoleman.com or follow him on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP.

He’ll even welcome notes from members of the Beyhive.