Though I might conceivably covet his major-label record deal, his apple-cheeked cross-campus fan base and perhaps most of all his well-stocked backstage deli trays, I don't envy 22-year-old Maine native Howie Day's place in the pop-musical landscape. As only the latest in an incredibly long line of sensitive-guy singer-songwriters to snake through music fans' attention spans during the past couple of years, Day's got the difficult task of carving a long-term career out of a shtick that actually yields higher short-term dividends the more it resembles that of Pete Yorn or David Gray or John Mayer. Stop All the World Now, Day's second album, plainly carries that burden: It's waterlogged folk-pop that wants to be serious without being tedious, well-arranged without being overproduced, immediate without being careless, easily memorable without being predictable. Unfortunately, it's all of those things, so you end up with modest highlights like OK-Coldplay single "Perfect Time of Day" along with bland, aimless strumfests like "She Says."
Fellow New Englander Bleu McAuley's deli trays are probably less impressive than Day's, yet there's a shameless arena-pop charm to Redhead, the major-label debut by the band that bears his name, that at least distinguishes it from the pack: zippy Tom Scholz leads, chewy Todd Rundgren harmonies, jubilant sleigh-bell jingles, anti-Hollywood chest-beating that works because could you possibly care any less? In the light of day Redhead probably resembles bad Ben Folds, but context can work wonders.