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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Terrence Howard earned an Oscar nomination for his role as a pimp aspiring to be a rapper in "Hustle & Flow" but the 2005 movie also shone a spotlight on the actor's musical talents and helped him land a record deal.
Howard releases his debut album "Shine Through It" on Tuesday. But it's nothing like the hip-hop he performed as Djay, which included Three 6 Mafia's 2006 Academy Award-winning song, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp."
"Imagine Don McLean growing up in Cleveland in the '70s and if he was black, with a little bit of Cat Stevens twisted into his words and a little bit of Richie Havens -- that's the thought behind it," Howard told Reuters.
"I'm more ... Latin, jazz, orchestral, folk. It's a lot of big sounds, all live instruments."
Howard, 39, scored a two-record deal with Columbia Records after running into a company executive as he returned hungover to his hotel after an all-night Oscar party in 2006.
He said the label initially wanted him to work with writers and producers to come up with songs and style his music.
"I remember telling them, 'If you're not going to let me produce it myself, then here's your advance back,"' said Howard, who wrote all 11 songs on the album, sang and played guitar. "I had made a little bit of money. I was going to do it myself.
"But they opened up my budget to about $150,000 for me to experiment for two weeks in the studio -- six days later I completed my album. I hired all my musicians and we kind of jammed out ... . I gave everyone complete autonomy."
The twice-divorced father of three said the inspirations for his album were the "faults and failures in my life, hopes and dreams for my future, trying to remain as present as possible but as conscious of yesterday and tomorrow as I can."
His children, he says, helped him write songs and sang on the album.
Music critics have been dismissive of albums by Hollywood stars such as Lindsay Lohan, Scarlett Johansson and Minnie Driver. So far, "Shine Through It" appears to have escaped that fate.
Reviewer Anthony DeCurtis of The New York Times wrote that while Howard does not sound like any of the musicians that he says inspired him, his secret weapon is his voice.
"The 11 tracks tend more toward a blend of orchestral jazz and upscale R&B, with lush textures of flutes, horns, strings, female backing vocals and keyboards accompanying Mr. Howard, who plays delicate acoustic guitar," DeCurtis said.
Jonathan Takiff, of the Philadelphia Daily News in Howard's hometown, wrote that Howard makes "an amazingly strong debut as a singer/songwriter."
Angus Batey wrote in Britain's The Daily Telegraph that Howard's debut is "not the record anyone who saw him rapping in 'Hustle & Flow' or acting opposite Ice Cube in 'The Players Club' or with OutKast in 'Idlewild' would have predicted: a sophisticated, acoustic-hearted, retro soul album, it seems as far away from hip-hop as it is possible to get."
As he gears up for an "Iron Man" sequel, writes songs for his second album and is in talks to play comedian Richard Pryor or civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in upcoming movies, Howard says he is unsure if acting or music will become his priority.
"I don't know what journey I'm on," he said. "(The music) is part of what I am supposed to be doing. How long I'm supposed to do it, I don't know."
Editing by Xavier Briand