Clay Aiken, "Tried & True"

76 Billboard Rating

Following a series of so-so soft-rock efforts, season-two "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken looks back to the music of the '50s and '60s on "Tried & True," a big band-style collaboration with German producer Alex Christensen, whose extremely varied résumé includes work with Paul Anka, Sarah Brightman and Right Said Fred. Given the cabaret-ready character of Aiken's voice, the change in direction suits the singer. Where he used to sound like an oldster attempting to crash the top 40, here Aiken's vocals exude a relaxed vibe that seemingly reflects his recent stint on Broadway in "Spamalot!" That even goes for a surprisingly authoritative version of "Mack the Knife," where Aiken summons a swagger he never previously displayed. Other songs on the 11-track set include "Moon River" (with a tasty acoustic-guitar solo by Vince Gill), a jazzy take on Conway Twitty's "It's Only Make Believe" and "Unchained Melody," which gets the full Hollywood-orchestra treatment. -Mikael Wood

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