This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.
Debuts from former “American Idol” contestants can be filed into two categories: record label-issued blandness, or wholly authentic to the contestant America spent weeknights voting incessantly for. Thankfully, the first collection from Season Ten finalist Haley Reinhart falls into the latter.
The bluesy ingenue’s debut, “Listen Up!” was quietly released in late May (just as a new winner was crowned) and is one of the stronger post-”Idol” efforts. Her meaty, throaty growl that often got criticized on the show is fully embraced here. She can belt pure, airy pop when necessary, and she does, but funky jazz, blues and R&B; dominate the disc.
In a post-Amy Winehouse world, listeners are still hungry for retro soul, even if the conversation is dominated by imports like Adele and Emeli Sandé. Reinhart presents a nimble voice that although undoubtedly influenced by current sounds, leans heavily on the sultry harmonies of Lisa Stansfield and En Vogue.
“Listen Up!” is a gamble. Carefully crafted pop hits are traded in for depth – a rarity for “Idol” and most twentysomethings in the business. There are no disposable pop beats from of-the-moment producers. Instead piano lines, horns and bright Motown-inspired dance-pop move the disc. It works, even if it doesn’t contribute to “Idol’s” commercial prowess.
The album is at its best when she pairs the natural grit of her voice with old school sounds, such as the booming horns on opener “Oh My!” (B.o.B drops a guest verse to balance her flirty coos), vintage piano-pop on “Free” and Motown groove on “Wonderland” (including classic tambourine and saxophone riffs).
Reinhart sings with a sassy sex appeal that is commercially accessible, but she pushes at the edges of contemporary pop in a way most “Idol” contestants wouldn’t dare.
[For the Record: 11:49 a.m. July 10: An earlier version of this post misspelled Haley as Hayley.]