Calling "Mr. Pitiful"—the first song and single off Matt Costa's second album—Spoon Lite isn't an insult. Built with a soft thump, bouncy piano and hand claps, augmented by Costa's boy-next-door charisma, it has the same Kinks DNA and makes a convincing case for the Huntington Beach skater-turned-songwriter's studied, if not exactly original, guitar pop. It's also one of the best songs here, although it may be rivaled by the easygoing "Lilacs," which is persuasive from its opening seconds and lyric: "You were right/I was up all night thinking about you."
Again, it's nothing new. But we'll always need fresh-faced guys to sing to us, and Costa often feels like a natural. His hard work and harder touring have earned him a deal with Jack Johnson's Brushfire label and a second mentor, No Doubt's Tom Dumont, who produced Unfamiliar Faces, as well as Costa's 2006 debut, Songs We Sing. Costa has since guested with Johnson on BBC Radio and played Lollapalooza, and in March, he'll tour Australia. Not bad for a guy who turned his full attention to music only after a broken leg sidelined his skating career.
Costa has admitted the breezy, folky influence of Donovan on his songwriting, whereas the banjo-and-harmonica closer "Miss Magnolia" is a loving nod to Mungo Jerry's 1970 hit "In the Summertime." But it's only because Costa's songs are so classically rendered that so many references come up, and it's easy to forgive him when he presents something as glowingly catchy as "Emergency Call," ending with a soulful parade of horns. Horns also pepper the title track, making for a good fit with Costa's unthreatening swagger. The quietness of "Vienna" is welcome, as well, but both "Bound" and "Heart of Stone" are plodding attempts at darkness that simply don't work. Stick to the sunshine, kid, and you'll stay golden.
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Matt Costa performs at Fingerprints, 4612 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 433-4996; www.fingerprintsmusic.com. Tues., 7 p.m. Free for Fingerprints e-mail subscribers who prepurchase Unfamiliar Faces.