Nu Soul too often comes off as a weak attempt at updating the music of Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye with acoustic noodling and anemic beats. It really ought to be branded Nu Cabaret because most of the time, it's just a bunch of people singing torch songs and conveniently dumping all the pain and urgency that made soul . . . you know, soulful. Fortunately, guys like Joseph Malik save this sound from devolving into bland dinner-party music: he arrives packed with the balls, anger and loneliness that gave soul such bite in the first place. His debut, Diverse, finds Malik spinning beats and singing in a falsetto that's reminiscent of Fine Young Cannibals' Roland Gift, accompanied by the acoustic guitars of David Donnelly, the occasional horn riff, and a diverse wall of Nigerian- and Brazilian-influenced percussion. The result is as astute as Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" was in its day, music that's sculpted for a new era. Outraged by bad ghetto situations, conflicted by his own screwed-up mind and brave enough to reveal himself as a sensitive guy, Malik successfully balances new school beats with old school rhythms and melody, ending up with terrific songs and proving that Nu Soul—in the proper hands—can be the real deal. (Andrew Asch)
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