Ben Lee

Ripe

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Ben Lee settled into a bit of a groove on his 2005 album, Awake Is the New Sleep -- or, rather, he matured, mellowing into a tuneful, tongue-in-cheek singer/songwriter, an Evan Dando who was warm, fuzzy, friendly, and lacking a considerable history of substance abuse. Of course, our Ben has never been dangerous -- he's always been a precocious kid, and if his mild impishness has faded over the years, along with his onetime fondness for clattering punk, his boyish sense of humor still remains on Ripe, his 2007 follow-up to Awake. Sometimes that humor is a bit too much -- despite its naggingly catchy hook, "What Would Jay-Z Do?" feels like a joke passed along in a high-school library -- but even if he occasionally overplays his hand, it sure is hard to dislike Lee. This is a guy who laments "Sex Without Love" (to a pounding new wave disco beat, no less!), sings about "American Television" without a trace of condescension, and updates the lilting '50s doo wop beat on "Birds and Bees," a charming duet with Mandy Moore. Lee has a warm cheerfulness that's thoroughly ingratiating, and he has the tunes to match. While none of these songs stands up and calls attention to itself -- neither does Lee, for that matter -- the songs are solidly constructed, are charming upon the first listen, and grow stronger on repeated plays, which are earned through the album's hazy, sweet nature. Truth be told, Ripe isn't all that different than Awake Is the New Sleep, but it's no worse: it's equally entertaining and endearing, a modest pleasure that's a pleasure all the same.

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