Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Paul Masson's debut EP struggles to establish artistic identity

April 18, 2010

Paul Masson has a voice that almost exactly recalls Ray LaMontagne. The rough, passionate rasp that is so distinctive to Mr. LaMontagne is apparently not as distinctive as we once thought. If you’re a fan of this particular performance style, then you’ll love Paul Masson’s self-titled EP.

Masson isn’t a rip-off; he just happens to have a eerily similar voice to someone already established. Not a crime. His tunes are country tunes, whereas LaMontagne’s are ballads. But it’s still an eerie coincidence on some tracks, and it’s a hard thing to get over (note how I haven’t been able to stop talking about it). The songwriting doesn’t do much to help the issue; the songs are totally vehicles for the vocals. They are fine tunes, but their merits cannot be parsed apart from the vocals. It really would be doing a disservice to the songs, which were clearly not written to stand on their own. And that’s no crime either.

But it does leave us with an intriguing problem: the music points me to the vocals, which point me elsewhere. I keep thinking that “Hannah” is going to pop up next on my playlist after a Paul Masson song. The reprieve from this is “My Girl Baltimore,” which has such a powerful melody that it grips me beyond the quibbles I’ve had with the tunes thus far. It is, far and away, the best track here. It will grip your heart.

Paul Masson is a talented individual who has focused his EP on things that distract me from his own identity. If these songs had more distinctive arrangements, it would be easier to pass over some of the other quibbles. But at the moment, it’s hard to distinguish Masson as his own artist.

If you’ve never heard Ray LaMontagne, though, you should totally check Paul Masson out. You’d like him. And then check Ray LaMontagne out after that. You’ll love him too.

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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