Album Review: Ruben Studdard, 'Letters From Birmingham'

80 Billboard Rating

RUBEN STUDDARD
Letters From Birmingham
Producers: Elvis "Blac Elvis" Williams, Harold Lilly
Shanachie Entertainment
Release Date: March 13

The Velvet Teddy Bear returns, already toting a top 20 adult R&B hit, "June 28th (I'm Single)." The track is the final entry in the Birmingham, Ala., singer's 12-song concept album exploring the anatomy of a relationship. Reminiscent of Marvin Gaye's musical forays on "Let's Get It On," Studdard sends listeners everything from smooth soul and funky/jazzy dancefloor grooves to movie-theme pop and gospel. That's a tall order. But he delivers, shifting seamlessly from raw funkster ("Turn U Out") to angelic falsetto ("Today [Hallelujah!]") and back to contemporary crooner ("Twisted Love"). He brings new meaning to two covers: a wistful romantic interpretation of "Pure Imagination" (from 1971's "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory") and a slowed-down take on Bobby Brown's "Rock Wit'cha." And Studdard's inspired pairing with Chrisette Michele on "Do It Right" is tantalizing. The set's spoken-word interstitials aren't really needed, however, while the track "Wear Me" ("Wear me like Gucci . . . take it off just to put me on") comes off as too cute. But quibbles aside, one thing is certain: The 2003 "American Idol" champ still has the chops.

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