At his show at the Birchmere on Sunday night, he relied on first-person narratives that touch the listener in that “me, too” place. Musiq tapped that strand of empathy on “Be Friends” from this year’s “Musiqinthemagiq” album, getting a rise from an ad hoc amen corner remembering difficulties with post-relationship friendships. A snappily delivered song about turning away from temptation when you’re no longer on the market, “Single” benefited from the same effect.
Musiq’s strengths are great melodies and big, happy choruses, often so sweet they feel like guilty pleasures for those who prefer more serious soul music with fewer concessions to contemporary R&B. “Love,” “Girl Next Door” and “B.U.D.D.Y.” were highlights from his back catalogue, combining irresistible arrangements with confident execution.
But behind all of the smart pacing, high energy, solid musicianship and witty engagement lurked a few unfortunate vocal failings. Although he’s far from a rookie, Musiq’s abuse of melisma occasionally sounded like that of an early-stage “American Idol” contestant. Unnecessary runs careened off course and stopped on odd sharp notes that didn’t resolve. Sometimes those runs would just bottom out inaudibly at the end of a phrase, as if he got lost and gave up.