Michael Bolton's blue-eyed-soul sound is winning wide acclaim, more than when he was a hard rocker and the ballad songwriter behind songs for the likes of Joe Cocker, Laura Branigan, Cher and Kiss.

Most Bolton fans know him for two recent ballad-heavy albums, The Hunger and Soul Provider and his reworkings of "Dock of the Bay," "Georgia on My Mind" and the co-writer (with collaborator Diane Warren) of "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" and seven other tunes. But before that, Bolton was something of a child prodigy and a rocker who signed a publishing deal with Epic Records when he was 15 years old."My mother had to co-sign the deal," Bolton said. "She had a real good voice herself, but back then it wasn't so easy for a mother to pick up a career. She gets a kick out of what I'm doing now. I have a song on the new Barbra Streisand album, and she gets a kick out of that."

As a writer, Bolton began by writing material for the Pointer Sisters, Larry Graham and Thelma Houston among others. But once Branigan's version of "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" was a hit in the early 1980s, Bolton had enough clout for his own record deal. Two good albums, including Fool's Game, got some MTV and radio exposure for Bolton, but he was looking for a wider market.

"My own (recorded) music was a bit heavier than my mass appeal songs," said Bolton, who keeps on producing what his fans want to hear. Bolton, who demos all his work whether it's written for himself or others.

"I always wrote songs for myself, and originally I never really considered writing for other people, but out of necessity my finances dictated it. I was writing country, R&B, rock and roll for myself and other people, but all of a sudden the ballads started making a lot of noise. After the second album came out I was really disappointed with the response and thought, `Everybody loves me on the ballads, let's see how it goes.'

"From the acclaim and response from The Hunger and Dock of the Bay it was really obvious where my strength is. It sold 800,000, then when Soul Provider came out, it flew past gold (500,000). So I know what the listeners expect, and I'm still writing it. The funny thing is that some of the guys in the tour band wanted to do stuff with more of an edge, but when I start to perform that sort of material, I find it's not where I want to be anymore. I want to hear my voice and use it for what it's good for. I don't want it to be up against the power of sound and production. Ballads are more emotionally powerful, and they give me more time to milk every word."