"A Simple Trick to Happiness," Lisa Loeb

 

Lisa Loeb's 15th release — yes, it's been that much music since her seminal 1994 hit "Stay (I Missed You)" — will fit all the sweet spots for her well-hewn fan base. The songs on "A Simple Trick to Happiness" are thick with pluck, offering words of encouragement for the challenges of life and bound by dependable melodies.  For all of Loeb's varied interests, from songwriting to producing to acting, there is continuity to her music, perhaps at the expense of creativity and exploration. There's a certain sameness to her sound and consistency to her approach that will always have a spot on long drive playlists.  "Another Day" speaks to plans that go awry, as tomorrow's plans are never truly promised. The message gets a little blurred in the hook, which essentially reminds us that we'll all eventually die so take each day as it comes. The pace is pep-less, but the melody lingers nicely enough.  "For the Birch" delivers more of the same, a track inspired by an old black and white photo of a reliable female family figure. We could write off this as one of many sentimental tracks on "Happiness," but it likely speaks to Loeb's view of herself as a songwriter. She offers tender tunes about the thorns of life that give way to hope and perseverance.  The best track here is "Shine," which reminds the listener that they have everything inside they need to radiate the life they desire. Loeb continues to radiate a caring approach to her craft, with "A Simple Trick to Happiness" as the latest evidence. — Ron Harris, The Associated Press

 

 

"Anybody Out There?," Sadler Vaden

 

Jason Isbell has been really rocking lately in concert, and here's one reason: Sadler Vaden. Isbell's lead guitarist has the chops to match licks with the boss, which is saying something. But "Anybody Out There?" — the follow-up to Vaden's 2016 debut album — is a tuneful power pop set that puts the emphasis on songs rather than solos.  It's also of another era. "Good Man" quotes Tom Petty. "Tried and True" is built on Byrds-ian jangle. "Modern Times" stirs fond nostalgia about MTV and wood blocks.  Vaden is equal parts John and George as he sings of love won, lost and under negotiation, displaying a versatile voice that's effective at both ends of the dynamic range. He urges positivity on the ballad "Don't Worry" and on the crunchy "Peace + Harmony," which he co-wrote with Aaron Lee Tasjan.  "Peace + Harmony" seems to end prematurely, just as the dance floor might be starting to stir. Vaden prefers concise approach elsewhere as well, launching into only a couple of long guitar solos, both beauties. Check out an Isbell show for more of those. — Steven Wine, The Associated Press

 

 

"The 2nd Album 'NCT #127 Neo Zone,'" NCT 127

 

NCT 127's sophomore album has something for everyone. It's a little bit sexy, a little bit warm, a little bit wild, a little bit of a hellion on the dancefloor, and a whole lot of unusual twists and swerves in the musical lines.  The 13-track record called "The 2nd Album 'NCT #127 Neo Zone'" offers a K-pop buffet to the hungry listener, as the nine-member band tackles trap, rap, electronic dance and classic pop sounds on the new album. NCT 127, which stands for Neo Culture Technology, distinguishes itself from similar label mates at SM Entertainment with quirky choices on a chorus here and an interlude there.  "Elevator (127F)" kicks it all off with a seemingly classic poppy tune underscored by emotional violins and then subverts expectations with some ragtime piano. "Day Dream" has a seductive percussion that makes your heart flutter, while "MAD DOG" pairs dirty guitar playing with rhythmic clicking. "Love Me Now" has a classic pop vibe with an uplifting flute bringing up the tempo in the background and "Not Alone" has an '80s guitar riff with an underlying R&B beat.  "Dreams Come True" slowly gets one into the groove with smooth piano pop that goes jazzy with strings and trumpets. The album's one ballad, "White Night," is a piano powerhouse with an underwater beat effect for good measure. It's all danceable and enjoyable despite a rather oblique attempt to stand out by introducing classical instruments into a very modern beat. — Christina Jaleru, The Associated Press