One of popular music's strangest paradoxes is that sunny, hooky, guitar-driven power-pop is often relegated to niche status, as if the works of Fountains Of Wayne or Jason Falkner were acquired and specialized tastes akin to, say, the music of They Might Be Giants. Never mind that Fountains and Falkner have separately made some of the most deliriously accessible and appealing records of the past few years. They're just not, um... radio-friendly? Brendan Benson's marvelous 1996 debut, One Mississippi, captured the hearts and minds of a few thousand diehard pop fans before plunging into obscurity. Now, after years of excruciating delays (many created by his fight to extract himself from his major-label deal), Benson returns with Lapalco, his almost overwhelmingly assured sophomore effort. From the eager opening strains of "Tiny Spark"which, like many tracks here, was co-written and produced by Falkner, whose stamp is unmistakable—to the more stripped-down, Beatles-indebted album-closer "Jet Lag," the disc crackles with enough energy and charisma to make it a fixture in every car stereo in America. It's perverse that radio programmers pass over albums as instantly ingratiating as Lapalco (or One Mississippi, for that matter) in favor of a crushing string of bleating, whiny, interchangeable nü-metal dirges. But that's no reason not to seek out the album and make it a warm-weather smash, one car stereo at a time.