RUBEN STUDDARD: Letters From Birmingham (Shanachie

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost ten years since Ruben Studdard pulled in 24 million votes to become 2003’s American Idol. Since then “the Velvet Teddy Bear” has enjoyed a string of gold and platinum albums most in the infectious contemporary, accessible pop/soul style of Luther Vandross, though remember he’s also enjoyed a Gospel no. 1 (‘I Need An Angel’). For this, his new LP, Ruben is trying something a little different – the difficult “concept” album.

Studdard hails from Birmingham, Alabama and we’re told that Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’ is a text that constantly inspires him. Specifically, here it’s inspired him to create a whole album – but Studdard’s subject matter is a far cry from King’s. The singer’s ‘Letters’, you see, tell the tale of a whirlwind 21st century romance – the wooing, the coming together and the inevitable break up. In some ways it’s like Will Downing’s ‘Love Lust And Lies’ (ironically another singer some compare Studdard to)

The wooing is done with songs like ‘Turn U Out’, ‘Love Skies’ and the fabulous modern soul beater ‘Wear Me’ . That one’s built on a conceit that the singer wants to be worn by his love like she might wear Gucci or whatever. Yes, it’s an odd concept… but believe me, it will grow on you. There’s a more romantic form of courting in the cover of ‘Pure Imagination’ (from that first Willy Wonka movie). Ruben does a great job on it…maybe not as good as Lou Rawls’ defining effort but still mighty fine.

The wedding takes place to ‘Today (Hallelujah)’. A dirge-like ballad that is the man’s pitch at the “wedding song” market. ‘Twisted Love’ and a version of Bobby Brown’s ‘Rock Wit’Cha’ are much more sensual wedding night celebrations. How long the celebrations last we don’t know, ‘cos after five more tracks – on ‘June 28th’ – our man’s declaring that “I’m single” and though he sounds none too happy he wants the “ladies” to know he’s available.

Yes, the story is predictable but not so the music. There’s plenty of variety and the occasional odd twist to things … like the ear worm that is ‘Wear Me’.

(BB) 4/5