Review: Michael Moushon – S/T

Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy June 17, 2005
It seems logical enough. For every Dave Matthews or John Mayer or Jewel that scales the charts or keeps their head above the constantly shifting tide of public taste, there’s dozens of imitators, sound-alikes, and hopefuls left laying in the wake, waiting hungrily for their shot at the top.
It speaks to the ability to reproduce their sound or their schtick, sure, but the bottom line is if you didn’t fawn over the product the first time ’round, you probably won’t fall in love with it the second. Ladies and gentlemen, enter Michael Moushon.

If the liner notes to his self-titled MLM Productions offering are any indication, Moushon’s Chicago- or Illinois-bred, but you’d never catch a whisper of regional identity or colloquial charm in his delivery. On each of the record’s 14 tracks, he waxes like the American pop everyman, crooning in that familiar and processed way that straddles the line between safe emoting and instant radio-readiness.

On some tracks, he mimics the shuffle of Dave Matthews, and his acoustic guitar, though frequently buttressed by an anonymous backing band, is almost constantly front and center. In somewhat lighter moments, of which there are a few, he could provide the backdrop to a bouncy but straightforward acoustic-pop number from Barenaked Ladies.

For the most part, though, he owes his biggest royalty check to the media mogul who invented, nurtured and marketed the concept of Gen-X television. Most of Moushon’s vaguely rock, vaguely pop tunes could introduce or act as segues in countless episodes of Friends or just about anything Tori Spelling’s dad could slap on a screen.

To The Rembrandts went the spoils but to Moushon goes the reprise.

This is the part of the review, though, where acknowledgment must be given to Moushon’s ear for crafting chart-ready fare and for the overall depth and studio sheen of the release. This is not some stubbly, half-hearted 20-something with a four-track and a couple of chords he picked up watching MTV Unplugged.

Moushon’s professionalism and care even shines through in unexpected moments — the grungy/bluesy drive of “You Just Don’t Understand,” the somber piano lead of “Mama Never Said,” the bizarrely out-of-place (and surprisingly good) jazz interludes and backing soul vocals in “Red Light,” the spare juxtapositions of acoustic guitar, bass, and piano that kick-start the otherwise predictable ballad “August,” or the reflective “Fixer of Broken Dreams.” (“Fixer of Broken Dreams” also is worth noting for how Moushon shakes his sometimes country-tinged refrains for an alarmingly effective falsetto.)

It must be said: there’s good songs here, songs that could really stand on their own merits if only Moushon weren’t so driven (or maybe instinctively drawn) toward making them sound like every second or third other thing on commercial radio.

While some operating in this commercial genre of poppy acoustic balladeering focus on the intimacy of connecting with a listener, Moushon’s sentiments are frequently writ large on the bridge of his acoustic guitar. The cover of his self-titled debut is all wrong, all too casual — a black-and-white pic of Moushon alone in the studio, acoustic guitar in hand, strumming out a chord, flip-flops on his feet, black t-shirt, head turned semi-profile away from the listener’s glare.

But his delivery is clearly different, the performance of a musician looking to grab the listener and hand them a big, clean and familiar verse they won�t have to struggle to hum. There’s the bubblegum pop nugget. The pensive ballad. The fun chart-topper. The closing love song.

It all works, and Moushon may be able, like those whose sound he references, to make his mark in commercial terrain. It’s a spirited, if highly safe, debut. You just can’t help but feel like you’ve heard it all before. And that, in and of itself, is a tough pill to swallow so early in a musician’s career.

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