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Letters from Birmingham [Best Buy Exclusive]: Release Notes:
Letters from Birmingham, Ruben Studdard's fifth album -- and first for Shanachie, refuge of the veteran, major-label cast-off R&B artist -- isn't nearly as heavy as the historical Martin Luther King, Jr. missive its title references. The album traces the arc of a relationship, from love at first sight to "June 28th (I'm Single)," a throwback-contemporary hybrid where Studdard addresses his ex-wife and potential mates. Four brief "letter" interludes help guide the listener through the stages in the singer's relationship; without them, the album would still have a discernible linear flow. The stylistic transitions, however, are not as smooth. There's some Southern-friend funk, neo-Philly soul, alternately silky and churning adult contemporary R&B, a very slow cover of Bobby Brown's Babyface/L.A. Reid-penned "Rock Wit'cha" (featuring K. Michelle), and even a twinkling version of "Pure Imagination" (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory). There is almost enough shifting to fill a season's worth of American Idol performances, and it detracts from the fact that this clearly is Studdard's most personal set of songs to date. With the right push and some open-minded radio programming, two of these songs -- the Ne-Yo-worthy "Wear Me" and the Chrisette Michele-assisted "Do It Right" -- could be significant hits and debunk the notion that Studdard excels only with ballads. ~ Andy Kellman
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