Ruben Studdard

Love IS

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Ruben Studdard's career has been a study in course corrections, with each album acting as an answer to what preceded it. Love IS is a reaction to the heavy seduction of The Return, scaling back the seductive Luther Vandross vibe -- something Studdard's couldn't really pull off in the first place -- and playing up Ruben's cuddly qualities. These are songs of longtime relationships, not new love, and the music is appropriately settled, grounded in quiet storm but drifting into adult contemporary via covers of Extreme's "More Than Words" and the Beatles' "Long and Winding Road," all of which helps give the album a bit of a retro-vibe; really only the stuttering rhythms of "Don't Make Em" make it seem like it could fit onto the contemporary R&B charts. This could be called resignation, but it's really an acceptance of what Ruben Studdard's peculiar strengths are: he's a smooth soul singer constitutionally incapable of suggesting anything racier than a tight snuggle, so it's best to keep him warm and huggable, as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis do here. Not that Love IS is perfect -- it's so relaxed it can sometimes be sleepy and Ruben's upper register, which he relies upon too much, can sometimes seem whiny -- but as a whole this is the best recorded representation of Ruben's talents to date.

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