Back in 1996, a young unknown from Louisiana named Brendan Benson issued a promising major-label debut called One Mississippi (Virgin) that had nothing whatsoever to do with the post-grunge brouhaha going on at the time. The album, full of spiffy melodies and fluffy harmonies hung on sharp hooks, didnít sell squat, so thatís the last we ever heard of him. Until now. Lapalco, an indie-label follow-up named for a Harvey (Louisiana) thoroughfare, is the impressive product of five yearsí worth of writing and recording with collaborator/power-pop doppelgänger Jason Falkner. Thanks to a recent tour slot opening for hip band du jour the White Stripes, Bensonís clever, luscious brand of Beatlesque pop has been reaching more folks than ever. Which is a good thing, because just about every track here ó from the instantly infectious opener, "Tiny Spark" to the wistful Mayflies USA/Fountains of Wayne daydream "Life in D" to the grin-worthy "Folk Singer" ó is a scrupulously crafted, shrewdly arranged example of premium guitar pop at its wittiest. This last tune finds Benson sleeping in and suffering his working girlfriendís cheeky reproach that she "ainít got time for my bed-in/She says stop pretending/Youíre not John Lennon." Maybe not, but on Lapalco, he comes awfully close to Paul.
(Brendan Benson appears upstairs at the Middle East this Saturday, May 18. Call 617-864-EAST.)