Though Jason Adamo's latest EP, Sunflower, is bookended by two versions of the same song, "Purple Sky," and though I've listened to both versions no less than 10 times each, I still couldn't tell you how either version goes. There's nothing there that snags the ear, no clever turns of phrase, no melodic grabs, no dynamic shifts—just middling white-bread soul jams with vocal phrases so predictable you can practically see Adamo wincing, Michael Bolton-style, as he hits the high notes. And with lines as clunky as "There's a smile on my face/ I can't wait to see your face/ It's been a long, long while/ And that's just too long," it's not going to be the lyricism that lets Sunflower bloom.
To his credit, Adamo can carry a tune. He has a wide range, and he's expressive, gliding between notes, lacing his warm tenor around the words gracefully. He occasionally overreaches, as when he stretches syllables by adding unnecessary oh-oh-yeahs at the end of almost every line. But that's only a symptom of the real problem: With very little lyrical vulnerability or specificity, Adamo's voice has nothing to carry or any reason to stick to the script. The songs have the shallow impact of a poke with a novelty foam finger. Only on the Hootie and the Blowfish-esque "Miracle" does Sunflower inch toward something memorable. "I just spent Christmas Eve alone," he croons, feeling and describing it as if for the time. And when the chorus hits, the tempo picks up just enough to breathe a little life into the song.
But like fertilizer, "Miracle" can only revive Sunflower for so long. Adamo is reaching for John Mayer's hushed blues, Adam Levine's polished pop, and Smokey Robinson's timeless melodicism, but he's not there yet. His blanket refusal to take creative risks doesn't seem to be pushing him there, either.
Jason Adamo has several Raleigh shows in the next week: He hosts an open mic night Oct. 8 at The Bassment and Oct. 14 at Blue Martini. He performs at The Pourch Oct. 9 and Rudino's Oct. 15.