Andy Stochansky 100

The line between true-blue earnestness and sugary sentimentality is a perilously thin one, but Andy Stochansky walks it like a champ. Ani DiFranco’s former skinsman mines the same vein of charming singer-songwriter pop that’s made John Mayer a housewife’s favourite, but his charming harmonies and dreamy Jeff Buckley-esque croon are made of sterner stuff. And while the songs on 100, his fourth full-length outing, struggle to breathe under a thick varnish of studio gloss (liberally applied by producer and Goo Goo Dolls front man John Rzeznik), he never slips over the edge into machine-pressed sensitive-white-boy schmaltz. There’s a bit more grit here than on 2002’s Five Star Motel: the soaring, string-backed "Shine” recalls the pop smarts of Brendan Benson with the rough edges sanded down; sharp verses giving way to a towering, chest-burstingly upbeat chorus, while "America” delivers a healthy serving of scrappy, radio-friendly politicized pop rock. Still, tender ballads are Stochansky’s bread and butter, with the soft-serve loveliness of "Beautiful Thing” (allegedly inspired by Shrek) and "That Summer” standing out as 100’s best and most accomplished moments. The latter is particularly alluring, the sound of a lovelorn boy lamenting a half-remembered crush in the never-ending summer vacation of memory. The sappy stuff veers a little close to Five for Fighting wuss-core sludge at times, but Stochansky remains the drive-time mom-approved pop tunesmith it’s okay to like. (Linus)