Duncan Sheik; Jason Mraz

Duncan Sheik could've been a contender. OK, maybe not a contender, but a guy with more than one great song inside him. "Barely Breathing" still brings back warm freshman-year memories, driving around with a girlfriend who wouldn't last, wishing the radio played more stuff that disguised real songcraft beneath blandly inoffensive production chops. Phantom Moon, Sheik's 2001 crack at Nick Drake-styled intimacy, even did away with the blandly inoffensive production chops and still worked as prime coffeeshop ambiance. Yet Daylight, the singer's latest, just sort of feels like a Jewel record--limply performed, oversung and soggy with lame memories of driving around with girlfriends who don't last. (That's when it doesn't feel like a creepy stalker record, anyway: "Magazines" describes in more detail than is needed how hard it is to avoid seeing photos of a successful model after she breaks up with you.)

Jason Mraz is probably headed for a similar future, but for the moment, his Elektra debut, the optimistically titled Waiting for My Rocket to Come, makes for prime freshman-year ambiance: He's got the bouncy melodies, bright guitar tone and anodyne stories about sleeping all day that the John Mayer set go so wild over, and when I talked to him on the phone last month he admitted his parents were uncomfortable with his quitting school to pursue music. See him now, before he can find out if they were right.


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