Susan Boyle, "A Wonderful World" (Syco/Columbia)
How to properly harness the skill of Susan Boyle is something of a pop riddle. What's the best way to deploy the soaring voice that comes out of this shy, British, middle-aged woman? Jazz? Broadway show tunes? Christmas songs?
Producer Steve Anderson thinks he's cracked it: Give Boyle an old pop tune, surround her with an orchestra and let her start quietly before the musicians crank up and she ends up belting behind a gale of music.
His approach seemed to work on her last album, 2014's "Hope," and he and Boyle are at it again with "A Wonderful World," an album of 10 covers including Paul McCartney's "Mull of Kintyre" and ABBA's "I Have a Dream."
The result is so formulaic that it gets tedious, but there's no denying Boyle's voice. The CD is being halfheartedly marketed as a Christmas album, but has few classic holiday tracks (who associates Madonna's "Like a Prayer" with sleigh bells?)
Some choices are excellent, like the elegant, understated "What a Wonderful World" and "Always On My Mind." But Robbie Williams' "Angels" is already a piano-driven ballad and Boyle's cover of it lacks the emotion of the original.
In a risky move, Boyle sings "When I Fall In Love" with the dead icon Nat King Cole. Aside from the creep factor, it's fine. The very much alive Michael Bolton joins Boyle for "Somewhere Out There" that actually shows off Bolton more than Boyle.
So what about the Madonna cut? What does this onetime church volunteer from a small Scottish town do with "Like a Prayer"? She turns it into a luscious church hymn — and it's the best song from a reliable, safe album.