Musiq Soulchild Aijuswanaseing

With his "Just Friends (Sunny)"single, Musiq Soulchild added his name to the groundswell of Philadelphia artists currently trying to revive that city's soulful legacy. Indeed, it's evident from a quick scan of the session musicians and producers on this record that there's about one degree of separation from some of the notable music that's been coming out of the "city of brotherly love" recently. While there are contributions from Scratch (of the Roots) and uber-producer James Poyser, for most of the tracks Musiq Soulchild hooked up with Jazzy Jeff's Touched By Jazz crew, who were behind Jill Scott's scintillating debut. With such weighty contributors, tracks like the beguiling "Girl Next Door" and the insistently melodic "Mary Go Round" easily attain repeat button status, but this can't be applied to the record as a whole. Overwrought lyrical corniness occasionally brings sumptuous arrangements down and as is often the case with debuts, the influences of the artists can be easily pinpointed. Usual suspects like Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway figure prominently as musical mentors, but it's quite surprising the hold recent artists seem to have. On "The L is Gone," Musiq wholly lifts the groove of the Roots' "The Next Movement" and the subject matter and delivery shamelessly emulates D'Angelo's "Brown Sugar," minus the clever double entendres. While a promising artist (with a rather cumbersome nom de plume), Musiq Soulchild would do well to bring more of his own ideas, rather than relying on proven contributors and well-worn clichés to get over. (Universal)