Quiz: Since 1957, what has been the leading cause of nights of passion in the United States? a) Barry White, b) Frank Sinatra, c) Cinemax After Dark or d) Johnny Mathis. Okay, "Skin-emax" is wrong because solo nights of passion don't count. As for Messrs. White and Sinatra, either one might be correct. But it's also possible they both take a back seat to croonin'-n-swoonin' Mathis. The quintessential romantic singer, Mathis began his foray into pop ballads in 1957. His shimmering opera-trained voice combined with lush orchestral arrangements proved to be a winning formula as the masses gobbled up his brand of sweet pop in droves. A romance-selling machine, Mathis has clocked in over 20 hit singles and, more important, more than 60 hit albums. Today, at 64, Mathis still has a sense of innocence in his voice and can hit those sustained notes with ease. His repertoire has a timeless nature to it, which proves one thing: True romance lasts forever. Bring your own chardonnay.
-- Paul J. MacArthur
Johnny Mathis performs with the Houston Symphony this Thursday and Friday, March 18 and 19, at 8 p.m. at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. Call (713)224-7575 for ticket information.
Jimmie Vaughan -- Since leaving The Fabulous Thunderbirds in 1990, Jimmie Vaughan seems ready for a change from the gritty, rocking blues sound that typified such T-Birds tunes as "Tuff Enuff," "My Babe" and "Wrap It Up." His two solo CDs, Strange Pleasure (1994) and Out There (1998), have added heavy elements of gospel and soul to his Texas blues sound, while featuring more lead guitar playing than Vaughan did with the T-Birds. "My vision for this thing is I wanted to combine the vocal groups with the blues guitar," says Vaughan. "...And when I write a song, I hear those kind of arrangements and think, 'Oh wouldn't it be great if we did this?' "
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Strange Pleasure, released in 1994, did a fine job of establishing Vaughan's new musical direction. If anything, though, Out There pushes the gospel and groove elements of Vaughan's music even further to the forefront on such songs as "Can't Say No" and the title track. To an extent, Vaughan hinted at this musical direction on Family Style, the 1990 CD he recorded with his brother, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. "Family Style was a chance to do all the things we do," Vaughan says. "I'm speaking for myself, [things] that I had been thinking about for a long time, but I couldn't do it in the T-Birds because we sort of had our own little groove. And people expected us to do that. But in the meantime, I'm thinking I sure would like to do this and this and this, and what about this?...So when Family Style came around, all that had been accumulating and building up. And it was the same with Stevie on his side. So we let everything go on that, and it just went right out into space, so to speak." Jimmie Vaughan performs Thursday, March 25, at Party on the Plaza, at the corner of Bagby and Capitol. Free admission. (Alan Sculley)