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'Soulful' proves 'Idol' voters right

Reviews: Studdard's R&B debut album worth listening to
/ Source: The Associated Press

If you're feeling like listening to a bit of soul, this is the week for you with three new soul releases. American Idol Ruben Studdard releases his debut album. Kelis' second album is a left-field, infectious collection. And finally, Musiq tries to live up to the title of his latest, "Soulstar."

“Soulful,” Ruben Studdard
Clay Aiken appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine first. Aiken’s debut album, “Measure of a Man,” came out first.But Aiken was second to Ruben Studdard in the “American Idol” competition as voted on by you, the people still recovering from repetitive stress injury from pressing the redial button on your phone.Studdard’s debut album, “Soulful,” proves you made the right choice. Comparing his R&B release with Aiken’s poppy disc is, of course, an apples-and-oranges endeavor. But as a whole, I’d rather pop “Soulful” into the CD player, and even listen to a few songs over and over.

You might not recognize Studdard though. No, he hasn’t had stomach stapling surgery — he’s still the cuddly teddy bear with the velvety voice you’ve come to love. But he’s undergone what can best be described as an image makeover, from quiet, wholesome Southerner to blinged-out, sexed-up R&B playa.On the opening track, “Sorry 2004,” he apologizes on a month by month basis for misdeeds past and future: “All them strip clubs, all them hot tubs, I’m gonna give ’em up, ’cause I don’t want to lose your love.”On “What is Sexy” — and isn’t that the slogan on the Victoria’s Secret ads? — he sings: “Love’s in the eye of the beholder (sex me) ... Baby we can get closer (freaky) ... Up in the crib come on over.”And on “What If,” which resembles “Sorry 2004” with its slow, easy rhythms, Studdard promises, “I’m gonna break you off with the ghetto love.” But in the chorus he looks skeptically at the fruits of his instant fame: “What if I was broke? What if I was slim? What if I couldn’t sing and I didn’t win? (Would you still love me, baby?)”Studdard also had the foresight to do something Aiken failed to do: He included covers of two of his best songs he sang on “Idol.” His version of “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” is a refreshingly rich take on the Bee Gees’ 1971 hit. And his heartbreaking “Superstar” sounds more like the Luther Vandross 1984 version than the familiar Carpenters’ original.But then “Soulful” ends with two seemingly incongruous bonus tracks. One is the feel-good anthem “Flying Without Wings,” the song Studdard sang during the “Idol” finals, which sounds positively quaint compared to the bump-and-grind vibe that preceded it. (There’s no way he could have excluded it, though.)The other is “We Have Not Forgotten,” featuring gospel singer Fred Hammond, in which he counts his blessings and gives thanks to the Lord.After all that sinning in song, maybe Studdard felt the need to repent at the end.-- Christy Lemire
“Tasty,” KelisThe multi-colored fro may be gone but the brash swagger is not.

Featuring one of 2003’s most infectious singles, Kelis’ “Tasty,” her second album, is an urbane romp through left-field soul. The record, produced primarily by The Neptunes, is aptly titled, with white-hot cameos from fiancé Nas and OutKast’s Andre 3000.One could spend an entire review talking about the raw single “Milkshake,” that rare song that has appealed to mainstream and underground heads. And why not? It sounds as if recorded from blown speakers as a vibrating bass thud rides a tribal drum. Over the three minutes, she effortlessly switches from spoken-word taunting to chanteuse-like dares. Couplets of “I can teach you/but I have to charge” will stick in your head for weeks.Although hard to match, some songs come close. The penultimate “Stick Up” comes the closest. Kelis serves the chorus “Put your hands up in the air/ It’s a stick up/ I’m a take your heart from here/ Now let’s fix up” in a creamy choirgirl voice, coating the sinister beat. Of the rest, the dancehall backdrop of opener “Trick Me” is a delicious appetizer with a steamy, harmonizing bridge.Nas readopts the “Nasty” moniker for “In Public” and it’s just that — take a guess what it’s about.-- Jake O’Connell

“Soulstar,” Musiq
On his third album, Musiq proclaims himself a “Soulstar,” and the album mostly delivers on the promise the title implies.Like his two previous projects, the songs on “Soulstar” cast Musiq as lothario or loser as he crosses paths with potential lovers.The upbeat “Forthenight,” finds the artist proposing a no-strings-attached hookup, while “Womanopoly” cleverly uses Monopoly as the basis for telling the story of a woman who took control of her own game of life.Detailing these exploits allow Musiq to work his charisma, something that is lost on off-topic efforts like the too-saccharine “Givemorelove”Musiq also reinvents The Rolling Stones, adding a soulful groove on a cover of “Miss You.”But “Soulstar” loses steam near its end. Musiq seems to run out of creativity and the later songs play like pale imitations of earlier ones. Lose some of the dead weight, and this star would shine a little brighter.-- Rachel Kipp