ANY GOOD HEAVEN

Jonathan Mudd

District denizen Jonathan Mudd once received the highest compliment a fringe-dwelling pop-rocker could ask for: praise from Marshall Crenshaw.

When Crenshaw received, unsolicited, a record by Mudd's new-wave-era outfit, the Shake, the skinny-tie hall-of-famer shot back a note saying, "I'm not sure who you are or why you sent me this record, but thanks. It's good."

If Crenshaw happens to find a copy of Mudd's latest CD, "Any Good Heaven," in his mailbox this holiday season, chances are he'll go for it, too: The album is a treat, a fetching collection of riff-happy rockers that never forgo the catchy parts.

Set opener "Outside Looking In" glides by on shimmery guitars and a fat, arena-ready chorus. The slinky "Feel So Real" detours into that '70s era via multitracked lead lines that practically quote Cheap Trick. And hook for hook, "Coming Home" is as strong as anything on the last Fountains of Wayne album -- "Stacy's Mom" excluded, of course.

Like the Fountains of late, Mudd can be a tougher sell lyrically, particularly when he waxes direct when just a suggestion would do. The subtitle of the otherwise ace "In Another Lifetime" is "All Right Alone," for instance, and although the Who-ish "Hiding the Gray" scores with a snarling, bell-bottomed outro, the tune would be better if Mudd rinsed out the forty-something angst.

For fans of smart guitars and tuneful melody-making, though, "Any Good Heaven" is a real find, one that -- as Crenshaw perhaps already knows -- could make a great pop-rock stocking stuffer.

-- Shannon Zimmerman

Going up: Pop-rocker Jonathan Mudd.