On his new album, veteran pop singer Paul Anka is surprisingly deferential to former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, who guests as a co-writer and background vocalist on three songs. In fact, on all three songs, Anka seems to be doing his level-best imitation of McDonald's husky-hushed SoCal soul crooning. The softspun phrasing, the funkily finessed arrangements and the swirling Ernie Watts sax solo all seem calculated to sneak Anka back onto the charts with a disguised voice. And it may work, because "Second Chance," "No Way Out" and the album's title song, "Walk a Fine Line," are all well-crafted pop tunes geared to easy listeners.
Anka dips into other another familiar stylistic well on "Hold Me Till the Morning Comes" and "Take Me in Your Arms," mushy radio ballads co-written and arranged by David (Chicago) Foster. In fact, the Anka personality hardly ever surfaces, though his past experience is occasionally evident in supple and assured pop phrasing. It gets embarrassing only on "Gimme the Word," a catchy corporate wave duet with Karla DeVito that she clearly dominates. It's commendable that Anka's willing to engage today's audience with their music instead of his, but "Walk a Fine Line" is an entree based on leftovers. PAUL ANKA -- "Walk a Fine Line" (Columbia FC38422). Appearing Sunday at 8 at the Merriweather Post Pavilion.