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BEST MALE VOCALIST Minneapolis 1999 -

When you first hear Mason Jennings sing out loud, you're caught off guard, wondering what bizarre condition could enable a 24-year-old kid with an acoustic guitar to sound like a 94-year-old blues singer. But when Jennings calms to a rolling lull--that's when you're sold. For sure, his vocals are expressive. But Jennings never succumbs to Michael Bolton Syndrome, never overextends himself to force an emotional effect--the tragic flaw of many guy singers. Jennings's voice is the listener's entry point into his intense, acoustic-based rock songs, which begins to explain why his star is rising locally at an unusual rate. It also helps explain why he was nominated for six Minnesota Music Awards in his band's rookie year--including Best Male Vocalist, a category he might very well have won if not for popular favorite Dan Wilson. Jennings's voice is an archetypal one, which could spawn hapless imitators in years to come. But that's all right: Since Jennings's throat is already the beneficiary of an accelerated aging process, it will be interesting to hear him in future years, as the rest of his body catches up.

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