Being pals with Jack White can't hurt one's musical career. Just ask Brendan Benson, whose recent collaboration with the Raconteurs, White's latest side project, is being hyped as Detroit's answer to Nevermind. Back on planet Earth, however, Benson has already enjoyed the erratic career of a self-absorbed singer-songwriter, one who's often compared to Matthew Sweet or Big Star's Alex Chilton. Obviously indebted to the Beatles without gorging exclusively on psychedelia's graying pap, Benson displays a keen eye for lyrical detail and an even sharper ear for melody -- not that it always ensures commercial success. After Virgin Records dropped him in 1996 following the critical acclaim but poor sales of his debut, One Mississippi, the incurable romantic languished for six long years before releasing the somber Lapalco. On his latest effort, the upbeat Alternative to Love, Benson expands his pop formula to create a bright, clean and exhilarating headphone album with producer Tchad Blake (Los Lobos, Latin Playboys, Elvis Costello). Who knows? Maybe Benson is the industry's next best thing all over again. -- John La Briola
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