D Maurice - Mosaic (2016)

D Maurice
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When a background singer who has been associated with a solo star for several years finally releases his/her own solo album, a couple of things usually happen. Not always, but usually. First, the artist has usually picked up so much of the sound (and bad habits) of his employer that the background singer is that artist’s doppelgänger, only less essential. The second thing that usually happens is that the supporting harmony work is gorgeously intricate and complex, but becomes the primary focus over the leads in attention and verve. Lastly, while the resulting album is more or less decent, it is not exceptional enough to warrant its existence in an already crowded marketplace. Best known as Eric “Erro” Roberson’s longest running supporting vocalist, D. “DMo” Maurice Macklin (here known as D.
 
When a background singer who has been associated with a solo star for several years finally releases his/her own solo album, a couple of things usually happen. Not always, but usually. First, the artist has usually picked up so much of the sound (and bad habits) of his employer that the background singer is that artist’s doppelgänger, only less essential. The second thing that usually happens is that the supporting harmony work is gorgeously intricate and complex, but becomes the primary focus over the leads in attention and verve. Lastly, while the resulting album is more or less decent, it is not exceptional enough to warrant its existence in an already crowded marketplace. Best known as Eric “Erro” Roberson’s longest running supporting vocalist, D. “DMo” Maurice Macklin (here known as D. Maurice) avoids all three traps in his long-awaited, independently released debut, Mosaic
 
Joining the artist exodus into Atlanta, the Dallas by way of Chicago transplant has been making a name for himself for years as an exceptional talent in indie soul circles. A second tenor/baritone with a satiny tone and churchy melisma, Maurice manages to sound nothing like the man he’s been singing behind for a decade, if not longer. Even on their two duets, the Roberson penned “No Tomorrow,” produced by Daniel Crawford, and on their co-written “Wouldn’t Lie To You,” produced by MavTone Productions, Maurice’s voice is distinctive and separate from Roberson’s in every way. In fact, the only thing undeniably Robersonesque about Mosaic is the song “No Tomorrow,” which bears all the songwriter’s signature tricks. Luckily, the moment and comparison it invites are gotten out of the way fairly quickly, so Maurice’s own trademarks can establish themselves, and they do so with welcome expeditiousness. 
 
While Roberson isn’t the dominant influence, there are others, like Marvin Gaye on the “Don’t Understand (Iwannabeyoluva),” which includes a fairly obvious interpolation of the Leon Ware/Marvin Gaye classic from I Want You. Maurice handles his impression of Gaye admirably. In his use of counterpoint and harmonies on a lush dream like “Ear Hustlin’,” Maurice and producer Rodney Jones create an enveloping sound reminiscent of early Carl Thomas. One can hear a bit of gospel groups like The Winans and Commissioned on the supporting vocals of “Melody’s Song (For Deborah…),” with a wizened lead that carries the feel, if not the timbre of Marvin Winans. What is clear listening to the light drum ‘n’ bass of the J. Rashid produced “Written All Over My Face” is that different producers bring different colors out of D. Maurice, each subtly demonstrating the casual singer’s range.  
 
On most of the project, D. Maurice does reflect the background vocalist singer’s preference to sing with himself and arrange tapestry harmonics as part of curating a signature sound. Where Maurice differs from the stereotype is that he never allows the lead to get buried, rather the leads are always in a tension filled, rhapsodic dance with the background vocals, as with “Beautiful,” “Love Letters,” and “Almost Doesn’t Count.” It’s a smart approach since D. Maurice’s voice isn’t a big belting, aerial falsetto, or grit-laden Southern Soul instrument that usually defines the bolder soul man soloist. Instead, he is of an R&B tradition that soothes in tones, struts its prowess in jazz riffs and gospel runs, and skillfully plays with phrasing. In these satiny soundscapes, what’s also clear on cuts like “Dreams Come True (featuring Carmen Rodgers),” a standout sweetheart of a track, is that Maurice’s tone carries a natural yearning that tugs at the heart and gently cradles. 
 
Generally speaking, despite multiple producers, Mosaic is a sonically consistent, even conservative project in the Wild Wild West of urban adult contemporary today, rife with hybrid sounds. Mosaic is also an unapologetically mature R&B album that lives in an underutilized halcyon period of indie soul from 2004 to 2009, all while keeping a steady groove and reliably soulful vocals. There are a few forgettable filler tracks and some overly long, “comical” interludes that wear thin with repeat listen, expected by those familiar with the artist’s goofy humor. Yet, the overall impression one is left with upon completing Mr. Maurice’s debut is that not only is it a necessary contribution to the R&B/Soul canon, it’s one that is long overdue by an artist whose time to the fore has finally come…deservedly so. Highly Recommended.
 
By L. Michael Gipson  
 
 
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