Snapshot of a Fest on the Rise

Leave it to a loved one to make ambition seem a quixotic vagary. "Stop pretendin',/You're not John Lennon," Brendan Benson's girlfriend tells him in the opening chorus on this two-disc album.

Probably not. But like a lot of contributors to IPO festival promoter David Bash's 43-song collection (available in Augustat, Benson is finding his voice. His "Folk Singer," built on a "Won't Get Fooled Again" guitar line, sets a high standard; it's a smart song with classic pop components, yet surprising enough not to wilt after the third spin.

More than in the previous three years of the IPO compilations, other acts follow suit. There's enough raw-boned energy on "Electrocute!" by the Fletcher Pratt (which, like Benson, hails from Michigan) and "I'd Rather Be" by Baltimore's Myracle Brah to bridge the flaccid interruptions, which include a couple of ill-advised covers and a handful of numbers that embrace their influences too tightly.

Then again, some of the influences are here. On "Heroes and Villains" by the Al Jardine Family & Friends, the harmony bar is set high, only to be cleared by Anthony & Tony Rivers, rekindling their '60s Harmony Grass song "What a Groovy Day."

Welcome modern twists are supplied by Sweden's Beagle and Southland groups Swirl 360 and Cosmo Topper, while the Solipsistics and Mark Helm serve up the kind of ballads that put a smile on the face of blind ambition. --KEVIN BRONSON


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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