The dreaded sophomore slump has derailed some of pop’s biggest success stories, so kudos to Meaghan Smith for going overboard in her attempt to follow up her Juno-winning 2011 debut, The Cricket’s Orchestra, with a new set of songs designed to challenge her audience’s expectations — and test her own artistic boundaries — without sacrificing her original appeal.

The result is Have a Heart, an 11-track set that cheerfully abandons Orchestra‘s coffeehouse vibe in favor of a much more eclectic approach incorporating everything from the aggressively radio-friendly pop of the title track to the scruffy sample-infused swing of “Friends Like You” and the unabashedly lovely torch song balladry of “Moon Makes a Fool” and “Je Taime,” which bookend a sprightly little breakup number called “Sucks to Be You.” You get the idea — Smith can do more than she showed the first time around, and Have a Heart wants to prove it.

This type of concentrated artistic wing-spreading can come across as a little needy, and feel fairly frantic on record, but Have a Heart is really quite a bit of fun — partly because the songs all boast heavy replay value, and partly because Smith’s been blessed with an appealingly elastic voice whose husky warmth is equally at home in each of Heart‘s varied sonic settings. The songwriting is shot through with hooks and playful humor, in obvious as well as subtly clever ways (“Get You Back,” for example, draws cockeyed melodic inspiration from the Malneck/Mercer standard “Goody Goody”), and the production is continually interesting without being distracting.

It’s anyone’s guess where Meaghan Smith goes from Have a Heart, which is evidently just how she likes it — and given how difficult it’d be for many of us to take a gamble like this in her position, it’s also fairly admirable, not to mention catchy as hell. More, please.

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Jeff Giles

Jeff Giles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Popdose and Dadnabbit, as well as an entertainment writer whose work can be seen at Rotten Tomatoes and a number of other sites. Hey, why not follow him at Twitter while you're at it?

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