With his sophomore release, “Juslisen” (Island/Def Jam), sitting on top of the charts, Philadelphia’s Musiq (he appears of have outgrown the Soulchild portion of his name) arrived at the House of Blues for two triumphant shows Sunday night.
Although he has been lumped in the neo-soul genre with Usher, Maxwell and D’Angelo, Musiq differs from his single-named brethren in a very important way — while the others present themselves as sexual dynamos, Musiq is probably the first R&B star who would just be happy to cuddle.
He’s not looking for some random booty; the songs celebrate the “Girl Next Door.” He doesn’t need to be your boyfriend; he’s happy to remain “Just Friends.” Courtly, attentive, unthreatening (it’s hard to be tough when you’re wearing a rhinestone-studded denim jacket), Musiq is a crooner his mostly female fans could take home to meet their parents.
Without a macho bone in his body, he is not a ripped, narcissistic Adonis; when he wants to show off some vocal muscle, it’s with extended falsetto passages.
It’s possible to view Musiq’s popularity as a reaction to the urban genre’s quest for credibility through hard and crude measures. Musiq looks like he’d be most comfortable on a college campus. Although he uses modern touches, including a DJ scratching and a heavily rhythmic, hip-hop influenced phrasing, there’s little in his set that would have sounded out of place on AM radio in the early and mid-’70s.
Touching on Stevie Wonder, Donnie Hathaway and the lovesick soul produced by Thom Bell, Musiq looks back to an aspirational era of urban culture, when soul and the middle class were not mutually exclusive.
Opening act Cee-lo, formerly of the Goodie Mob and associated with the OutKast, is a part of Atlanta’s conscious hip-hop scene. Taking the stage to the fanfare from James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World,” Cee-lo makes an immediate impression, a larger-than-life figure lumbering across the stage in a flowing silk robe, looking like a cross between Shaq and “Boston Public’s” Chi McBride.
But he raps with a limber grace with a unique, sandpapery voice that sounds like Macy Gray after the helium has worn off or a modern day Howlin’ Wolf. He smartly structured his short set like a revue, mixing songs from his solo debut “Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections” (Arista) with Goodie Mob numbers and covers of ’80s soul and pop.