'Boys Don't Cry'
Two and a half stars
The most believable selection on this English singer's 2010 debut was "Aretha," in which Rumer described an experience of the blues utterly reflective of the ongoing 1960s-soul revival: "I got Aretha in the morning/ High on my headphones and walking to school." Here was a pitch-perfect nostalgist making no bones about the object of her affection: not a lover, but a record about one.
Rumer exercises that devotion to history in a more familiar manner on her follow-up, "Boys Don't Cry," released this week in digital formats with a physical edition to follow next month. It's a covers album featuring tunes by vaunted '70s songwriters like Jimmy Webb, Todd Rundgren and Paul Williams. (That title acknowledges the gender behind her source material, not the Cure hit.)
Yet if Rumer seems to be thinking less critically here, she sounds just as beautiful doing it, channeling Karen Carpenter's luscious croon in "Travelin' Boy" and deploying a burnished falsetto in "Sara Smile" by Hall & Oates. She falters only in a dry-as-toast rendition of Isaac Hayes' "Soulsville," about life in a place with "plenty of names — slum, ghetto and black belt — and they're one and the same." Rumer's version doesn't fail because she lacks a credible claim on hardship; it fails because she seems indifferent to the song's subject. And what kind of record obsession is that?