Michael Franti and Spearhead, "The Sound of Sunshine" (Capitol)

Franti does happy really well. "The Sound of Sunshine" follows 2008's "All Rebel Rockers" and its hit "Say Hey (I Love You)," and it takes that irresistible song as a starting point for a set of bubbly, reggae-tinged hip-hop. For an artist who trafficked in zealous political commentary for much of his career, "The Sound of Sunshine" sounds safe. But that does not mean it's lightweight. Franti grew up on AM radio pop hits, and he has said he respects the power of cheery tunes to unite people. He also recently survived a life-threatening burst appendix. These uplifting songs, some produced by reggae legends Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, celebrate sunshine, friendship, angels, and love, and they have the hooks and the positive thinking to induce communal sing-alongs, happily and safely. Franti performs Oct. 7 at the State Theatre in Minneapolis.

STEVE KLINGE, Philadelphia Inquirer

Brandon Flowers, "Flamingo" (Island)

Give him credit: Flowers is a restless soul, but he puts himself to work. Over three albums fronting the Killers, he took the band, with mixed results, from the icy textures of post-punk to Springsteen Americana to carefree pop-rock. For his solo debut, Flowers continues the search, from what sounds like the sterile casinos and bar stools of Vegas. He hasn't arrived at any great conclusions, jogging back and forth when he should be letting his voice build and soar, as it does a few times here (notably on "Only the Young" and "Magdalena"). He manages to dig up some interesting new influences -- country rock on "The Clock Was Tickin'," show tunes for "On the Floor." That's admirable, if confusing. At his best, Flowers is a convincing solo artist yet to find his groove. At worst, he comes off as Neil Diamond backed by Dire Straits. Why the rush to be so old? Flowers rocks Nov. 21 at First Avenue in Minneapolis.

MICHAEL POLLOCK, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER