Picks and Pans Main: Music: Soulstar

updated 01/19/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/19/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

R&B

Musiq

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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On his third CD, neo-soul man Musiq once again shows why he is one of R & B's brightest young stars, delivering another stellar collection of vintage '70s sounds. Although the disc falls short of 2002's excellent Juslisen, it confirms that while Donny Hathaway. Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye are obvious influences, the 26-year-old singer has developed his own singular style. A Musiq album sounds like a Musiq album. In an age of producer-driven copycats, there is no other contemporary artist who comes to mind on a song like "Womanopoly," a midtempo narrative that cleverly incorporates landmarks from the Monopoly board game into its lyric about a woman who rises up from the ghetto streets: "I met this girl on Baltic Ave./And you can tell how she steps on Boardwalk/She was from Park Place." (Also dig the way he works in those dice-shaking sounds!) Musiq's true-to-life lyrics continue to strike a chord with listeners, whether he is pondering his responsibility in an unwanted pregnancy on the sumptuous slow jam "Babymother" or contemplating a one-night stand on the breezy single "Forthenight." Musically, he delves into deeper grooves on insistently funky cuts such as "Dontstop," a duet with fellow Philly native Bilal, and "Romancipation," which samples Graham Central Station's 1975 throwdown "The Jam." And after radically reworking the Beatles' "Something" on Juslisen, he succeeds with another classic-rock cover here, bringing out the inner soul of the Rolling Stones' 1978 hit "Miss You."

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