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Larry Carlton
Then and Now (Wienerworld)

Larry CarltonWith thirty solo albums to his credit and performances on over one hundred others (many boasting gold or platinum sales), Larry Carlton’s genius with six strings has never been in any doubt, so frankly it’s high time we had an overview of his work, something which is expertly addressed on this 3 CD box-set, with disc one featuring tracks from classic recordings (Larry Carlton ‘78, Strikes Twice ’80 and Sleepwalk ’82), disc two the previously unavailable on CD outside of Japan Mr. 335 Live in Japan and disc three Four Hands & A Heart Volume One (also available separately), featuring new stripped down arrangements of the tracks on disc one.
Paul Riley

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Caldera
Caldera/Sky Islands (SoulMusic Records)

CalderaIf we had a page dedicated to great lost albums (it’s in the works – Ed) then the first album by Caldera, active from 1976-1979, would certainly be a contender (actually all four of their albums are well worth a listen), so this collection featuring their first two albums is doubly worth tracking down. Ostensibly Return To Forever style jazz/funk Caldera’s albums also feature everything from Spanish flamenco and Afro-Cuban salsa to Brazilian samba and ends up sounding not unlike Santana jamming with Weather Report. Let’s hope SoulMusic have their other two albums Time And A Chance and Dreamer due for release soon.
Paul Riley

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Bill Callahan
Dream River (Drag City)

Bill Callahan We have said it before, Bill Callahan could sing the phone book and we’d still go all gooey over that lugubrious baritone, so that fact that he also writes fascinating (if occasionally obtuse), lyrics makes pretty much his entire output essential listening. Returning to the river, a reoccurring motif in his work, the only real change here from Callahan’s usual wonky take on alt-country is the occasional bout of guitar noise, but really this is business as usual, to which we say, thank flip. And whilst it might sound like the worst idea in the world it’s also well worth tracking down the dub version of ‘Javelin Unlanding’ (entitled 'Expanding Dub').
Ruby Palmer

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Congo Natty
Jungle Revolution (Big Dada)

Congo Natty Possibly previously better known to many of you as Rebel MC the man known to his mum as Michael West has spent the last 25 years mixing rap, reggae, hip hop, techno, house, ragga, jungle music and more with varying degrees of success. Now, in 2013, he seems to have finally nailed it with a mixture of deep rootsy reggae and old skool jungle that is not only a truly wondrous mix but also invents a whole new genre to boot, marrying melodic tunes with rumbling bass, high speed chatting with scuttling infectious beats and then drenching the lot in a warm soup of dub. Album of the year thus far, no contest.
Drew Base

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The Clarke & Ware Experiment
House of Illustrious (Mute)

The Clarke & Ware ExperimentClearly we have no hope of doing justice to a 10 CD box-set in such a short review but if you're a fan of challenging, darkly ambient electronica then you will definitely want to get hold of a copy of this link-up between Vince Clarke and Martyn Ware, just don’t expect it to sound anything like their previous days jobs in Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Heaven 17 or The Human League (although there are certainly echoes of Ware’s B.E.F. project). This features both 1999's Pretentious and 2001's Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle albums plus a further eight CDs of previously unreleased material, but you’ll need to get a wriggle on as they are limited to 1000. You can check out samples from the album via the 'buy this album' link.
The Oracle

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John Cale
Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood (Double Six)

John CaleWhoever envisaged a time when musical anti-hero’s like ex-Velvet Underground founder member John Cale would be releasing albums into their seventh decade? Certainly had you asked him in his twenties he would have doubtless found the notion laughable, and yet such is the case and this, his first for seven years, is the youngest and most vibrant he has sounded in many a moon, less avant-garde certainly (Nookie Wood is grown up electronic pop music) but if avant-garde means Lou Reed and Metallica then we’ll take this thanks. Cale has nothing to prove and consequently proves he's as in touch today as he was fifty years ago.
The Oracle

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Hugh Cornwell
Totem And Taboo (The Cadiz Recording Co.)

Hugh Cornwell It’s worth remembering that Hugh Cornwell has been a solo performer now for a good deal longer than he was a member of the Stranglers and yet, like Frank Black, his previous outfit continues to define every move he makes so, whilst he is doubtless bored stupid with reviews which quote the ‘S’ word, we’re going to say that this is not only the best thing Mr Cornwell has put his name to in many a year it is also a good deal better than much of his previous bands latter output and if his voice lacks the vitriol of yore his lyrical bite remains and the punchy sound is helped no end by the metho-dical and uncluttered production skills of Steve Albini.
Ray Harper

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Caspian
Waking Season (Triple Crown Records)

CaspianThird outing from post-rock quintet Caspian, building on the groundwork laid on previous releases The Four Trees and Tertia, and their first with a producer (Matt Bayles). So has anything changed dramatically in camp Caspian? Erm, not dramatically, no, although certainly Waking Season is the most consistent of their outings to date, but let’s be honest here what fans want from Caspian (and Mogwai and GSYBE), is slowly evolving and spiralling guitar rock which ultimately bursts into a walloping great firework display of noise and that’s exactly what you get. If you want your bumps goosed then look no further.
The Oracle

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Cluster
Cluster II (Esoteric Recordings)

Cluster Not to be confused with Kluster which, whilst still featuring Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius (with Conrad Schnitzler) was more of an idustrial precursor, Cluster were far more of a proto-ambient affair and this, their second album, found them stepping away from the longer untitled pieces of their debut and moving towards the more beat driven exercises found on their third Zuckerzeit. That said the album is still mainly built around long slowly evolving electronic passages which would go on to influence everyone from Eno to the Orb and is worth getting for the spaced out centrepiece ‘Live In Der Fabrik’ alone.
Ray Harper

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Neneh Cherry & The Thing
The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound)

Neneh Cherry & The Thing Fronting Rip Rig + Panic and a short lived career as a pop star (on hit album Raw Like Sushi), may not lead you to expect a link up with Swedish jazz-improv outfit The Thing would be on the cards, but Neneh Cherry's career is actually littered with left field link ups (working with The The, Pulp, Craig Armstrong, Peter Gabriel, Gorillaz, Timo Mass and many more), so is this collection of (mainly) avant-garde cover versions any good? Hell yes! More than good in fact, giving acts as diverse as Suicide, The Stooges, MF Doom and her dad Don a walloping great make-over, this is a marriage made in heaven.
Paul Riley

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John Coltrane
The Rough Guide To Jazz Legends: John Coltrane (World Music Network)

John Coltrane If you only intended to have one John Coltrane album in your collection then we would certainly tell you to make that album A Love Supreme, but that’s a bit like saying you only need Hunky Dory by David Bowie, what about Low, Heroes or Scary Monsters? So you have A Love Supreme what’s next? Well you could do a lot worse than this collection of tracks cherry picked from his late ‘50s catalogue, widely believed to be one of several highpoints in his career. Add a second CD of tunes featuring Coltrane on the work of others including Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Cannonball Adderley and you have a pretty damn fine starter set.
Paul Riley

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Cooly G
Playin' Me (Hyperdub)

Cooly GNot to be confused with Cooly D (Dutch hip hop chap), Coolio (rapper), Schooly D (erm, another rapper), in fact the only thing slightly mundane about Merrisa Campbell is the nondescript stage-name, something we only mention as you might be tempted to pass this by and that would be a big mistake as her debut album positively throbs – occasionally literally - with ideas mixing up lovers rock, soul, dub step, grime, techno, jungle, glitch and more, she even manages to make Coldplay’s ‘Trouble’ sound cool, like Gonjasufi remixed by Burial! Neat. Campbell is a real talent, move over M.I.A. there’s a new kid in town.
Drew Bass

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Can
Lost Tapes Box Set (Mute)

Can When it was announced that Irmin Schmidt and Jono Podmore (who remastered the Can SACD editions in 2004) would be digging around the band archives fans waited with bated breath for the results. Retrieved in 2008, cleaned by audio-restorers and then digitised the resultant 50 hours of music was then listened to and graded by Schmidt and Podmore. So are the results any good? Actually far, far better than they have any right to be, and for Can fans the stuff of dreams, much of the material is easily good enough to sit alongside their official releases and proves that at their best Can were discarding stuff many bands would kill for.
The Oracle

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Jimmy Cliff
Rebirth (Trojan/Universal)

Jimmy CliffIt’s been 40 odd years since Jimmy Cliff bounded up the UK charts with the reggae classic ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ and then introduced cinema goers to the murky world of the Jamaican music business in the film The Harder They Come. Not that he’s been lying in a hammock (as you would be inclined to do if you lived in Jamaica) ever since, this is in fact his thirtieth album, more importantly however it’s the best he has put his name to in decades. With Clash and Rancid covers alongside Cliff’s own thought provoking cuts this album delivers the man right back to his ska roots and is a genuinely delightful return to form.
Drew Bass

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Crippled Black Phoenix
(Mankind) The Crafty Ape (Cool Green Recordings)

Crippled Black Phoenix Listed in Wikipedia as a rock supergroup, which in all honesty is stretching things somewhat as their other oufits - Iron Monkey, Gonga, Mogwai and Electric Wizard - can hardly be considered major league unit shifters, fans of these bands will however probably be aware of CBP’s unholy post-prog noise and, despite being a concept album, actually make that a double concept album (Mankind)... is genuinely terrific, and probably the bands finest effort to date. As an Amazon reviewer rightly points out, any album which boasts a track entitled ‘Faced With Complete Failure, Utter Defiance Is The Only Response’ simply must be bought.
Ruby Palmer

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Carl Cox
All Roads Lead To The Dancefloor (Intec Digital)

Carl Cox If you were quick off the mark you will already have the USB version of this release – which came fully loaded with a whole host of tracks, video’s, radio shows and loads more – and that will now have updated to include the music on this, equally fine, album. If you can still track down the USB stick do so as it will also be adding even more content over the coming months (including, amongst other things, remixes and access to live video streams from Carl’s gigs), if you're not happy with new fangled jiggery pokery you should just pick up this strong collection of Cox's patented House, Dubstep, Drum & Bass, Latin and Techno floorfillers.
Drew Bass

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Can
Tago Mago: 40th Anniversary 2 CD Edition (Spoon)

CanThe phrase ‘classic album’ is bandied around with tedious regularity in the music press nowadays, albums that can best be described as ‘not bad’ are lauded as some sort of lodestone, without which… etc. Well welcome to the real thing. So good is this album in fact that there is absolutely nothing that you could do that would make it any better - beside adding a second CD featuring the guys in full flow live in 1972. Even today it still sounds like nothing else and it’s hard to imagine why you would not already have this and played it to death, unless you are a young type in which case, you lucky, lucky bastard…
Ray Harper

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Chickenfoot
III (earMUSIC)

ChickenfootHaving picked such an obviously idiotic name Joe Satriani, Chad Smith, Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar are clearly not taking themselves too seriously – III is in fact their second album – and having fun seems to be one of the major forces driving this project, alongside Chili Pepper Smiths funked up version of hard rocking, and if this isn’t as full on as their first effort there’s still more than enough dumb-assed fun to be had as the band wind back the full on clatter for a more Stonesy swagger, although there are still enough balls out rockers and ludicrously indulgent soloing to keep the metal heads happy.
Ray Harper

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Jim Capaldi
Dear Mr Fantasy: Box Set (Commercial Marketing)

Jim Capaldi Widely held to be one of the good guys, Jim Capaldi, who succumbed to stomach cancer in January 2005 aged 60 has finally been given the long overdue box-set treatment proving that there was a good deal more to him than the 'one who wasn’t Steve Winwood' in Traffic. Charting his career from the early ‘60s - a track each by the Helions, The Revolution and Deep Feeling - and including positively oodles of unreleased material and a genuine who’s who of guest stars (take your pick from Eric Clapton, Paul Kossoff, George Harrison, Carlos Santana and Van the man amongst a good many others) and what you have is well over five hours worth of good reasons to celebrate the life of Mr Capaldi spread over 4 x CDs.
Ray Harper

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Bootsy Collins
Tha Funk Capitol Of The World (Mascot)

Bootsy CollinsDaft as a bag of idiot fish on crazy pills he may be but Mr Collins can boast about the coolest phone book in existence as the guest list here proves (Chuck D, Snoop, Sheila E, brother Catfish, Bobby Womack, George Clinton, and guitar nutter Buckethead all line-up alongside the Rev. Al Sharpton, Samuel L. Jackson and many, many more). Of course this top heavy ‘featuring’ list could simply topple things over into a big ol’ fonked up mess but fear not, that clonking great squelchy bass is all over Tha Funk Capitol... like a rash ensuring that even the less well realised moments are as funky as hell, yeah baby..
Drew Bass

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The Chocolate Watchband
Chocolate Watchband's Greatest Hits (Watchband Entertainment)

The Chocolate WatchbandNot a band that made a huge impact in the UK, they were nonetheless an important, if short lived, part of the '60s Californian garage/psychedelia movement. Hampered by an ever changing line-up the bands most popular album The Inner Mystique actually barely features any of the main players, which is almost certainly why they have decided to re-record many of the tracks from that album on this wholly new re-recorded ‘best of…’ set which sounds entirely authentic to the era, and finally allows fans to hear this material delivered by David Aguilar, the front-man of choice for most Watchband followers.
Ray Harper

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Bill Callahan
Apocalypse (Drag City)

Bill CallahanFans of Bill Callahan (or his earlier alter-ego Smog), will as likely take any notice of this, or any other, review as you or I are to rest our private parts on a barbeque, because Callahan fans just buy his new album regardless. Reviews will tell you this or that one is more stripped back or more commercial but the only thing that really matters is that deep, dark and desolate voice and those even deeper, darker and occasionally disturbing lyrics. For the record this outing is a little less accessible than his previous effort but equally as fine as anything in his fine back catalogue, and if you haven’t already done so take a listen, you won’t regret it.
Ruby Palmer

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Michael Chapman
Trainsong : Guitar Compositions 1967-2010 (Tompkins Square)

Michael Chapman You may well never have heard of Michael Chapman (and no, it’s not the gravelly voiced singer, that’s Roger), but if you are a fan of beautifully played folky acoustic guitar then you are seriously missing out as he is just as likely to be lauded by Supergrass or Thurston Moore as 60’s folk scenesters. But with well over thirty albums in his extensive back catalogue where to start catching up? Well we reckon this double disc collection featuring 26 recently-recorded solo guitar versions of tunes spanning his entire career is a pretty damn good spot as it is just downright lovely from the first note and chock full of gorgeous goose bump guitar playing.
Raft Thong

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Joe Cocker
Sheffield Steel (T Bird)

Joe Cocker If ever an artist failed to live up to expectations it was Joe Cocker, gifted with an astonishing voice and a lunatic but mesmerising stage presence, sadly drink and drugs took a steady toll and by the end of the ‘70s Cocker was a spent force lurching from one disaster to another. His fortunes changed in the early ‘80s due to THAT duet with Jennifer Warnes for the soundtrack of the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman and this fine album curated by Island boss Chris Blackwell and featuring the Compass Point All-Stars, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and Wally Badarou with guest slots from Robert Palmer and Jimmy Cliff.
Ray Harper

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Camel
Rainbow’s End: An anthology 1973 – 1985 (Decca)

CamelAlthough founder member Andy Latimer can still regularly be found riding this particular Camel (which, let's be honest, can’t be said for most prog leaning bands to hail from the early '70s), this box set neatly encapsulates the band (when indeed they still were a band rather than Latimer and Co.) at the height of their powers, the first three discs in particular showcasing just how good a band Camel were, the high watermark being around the time of the second line-up with ex-Caravan vocalist and bass player Richard Sinclair replacing Doug Ferguson, and ex-King Crimson sax man Mel Collins adding to the very English prog-rock of Andy Latimer, Andy Ward and Pete Bardens.
Ray Harper

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Curved Air
Retrospective (Repertoire Records)

Curved AirGo, be honest, how many of you got their first album because it was the first ever picture disc (must dig that out sometime), only to find it was actually a rather good mix of prog rock and folk? Famed, at the time at least, not only for their hot, rock-chick vocalist Sonia Kristina (that ‘naked all but for a pair of knickers, a small fur jacket and long kinky boots’ poster adorned many an adolescent wall), but also their electric violin player Darryl Way - later Eddie Jobson, and for their first three albums at least they looked like real contenders, and pretty much every reason why can be found on this double disc set.
Ray Harper

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Colosseum
Live 05 (Ruf Records)

Little AxeLegendary prog rockers Colosseum can boast some of the biggest names in UK music history. Vocalist Chris Farlowe, guitarist Clem Clempson, keyboard player Dave Greenslade and drummer Jon Hiseman to name but four. This two disc live album, recorded in Germany and Austria in 2005 gives a good introduction to the band with prog rock classics such as 'Tomorrows Blues' and 'Lost Angeles' along with blues classic, 'Stormy Monday Blues' and the Pete Brown/Jack Bruce penned 'Rope Ladder To The Moon'. Consummate musicians, drum, guitar and organ solos and out of the world song titles, well what do you expect, it is prog rock after all.
David Blue

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The Chemical Brothers
Further (Parlophone)

The Chemical BrothersOdd coves The Chemical Brothers, avowed back-room boys with more or less zero in the way of charisma or star quality, they have nonetheless been at this dance lark for almost twenty years now and, unlike many of their peers, are still shifting plenty of units. Initial worries that the boys may have finally lost their edge when the, slightly sub twelve minute, ‘Escape Velocity’ singularly fails to reach it’s titles required impetus are however thankfully dashed as the last two thirds of the album whips up a positive whirlwind of pulse pounding beats equally as good as any one of their career defining ‘Battle Weapon’ mixes.
Drew Bass

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The Cure
Disintegration (Polydor)

The CureBelieved, by many a Cure fan, to be their finest moment and a move back towards the bleaker vibe of Pornography, Disintegration was, in part, a result of Robert Smith trying to distance himself from pop successes like ‘Why Can’t I Be You’ but the ploy backfired disastrously when the album promptly became a huge success. Now including unreleased tracks, out-takes, demo’s (many showing just how fully formed Smith’s demo’s were before recording began) and Entreat the entire album played live at Wembley in 1989 now with four extra tracks. If you are only ever going to own one Cure album this should be it.
Ruby Palmer

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Caravan
The World Is Yours The Anthology 1968-76 (Universal/Decca)

CaravanWith prog no longer a dirty word the time is ripe for the rediscovery of Caravan – a band who emerged from Canterbury outfit the Wilde Flowers, which also included Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper and Kevin Ayers – and this boxset is a truly wonderful introduction to the band including, as it does, pretty much all of their finest two albums If I Could Do It Again, I’d Do It All Over You and In The Land Of The Grey And Pink, plus choice nuggets from all their other late '60s/early '70s material and two early ‘70s unreleased tracks (‘The Love In Your Eye’ and ‘Any Advance On Carpet?'), as an enticement for longer term fans. Highly recommended, especially if you like your prog with a healthy dollop of humour.
Ray Harper

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The Chieftains feat. Ry Cooder
San Patricio (Decca)

The Chieftains feat. Ry Cooder Not the first time Cooder has worked with the Chieftains although in truth he is to be found far more often behind the mixing desk than in front of the mic on this highly pleasing fusion of the sounds of Ireland with the sounds of Mexico and the Southern US. As is often the case with Cooder there is a story to tell here, this time about a group of 19th Century Irish immigrants conscripted into the US army in their war against Mexico, who promptly defected to fight with their fellow Catholics. Guest stars include Liam Neeson, Linda Ronstadt and Mexican musicians Carlos Nunez, Lila Downs and Los Cenzontles.
Ray Harper

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Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
The Road (Mute)

Nick Cave and Warren EllisThe latest outing from the prolific Nick Cave (when does the bugger sleep?) this time working with Warren Ellis on the soundtrack to ‘an epic, post-apocalyptic tale of survival of a father and his young son journeying across a barren America destroyed by a mysterious cataclysm’ directed by John Hillcoat which, let’s be honest, sounds right up old Nick’s street and is suitably haunting, bleak and rather beautiful. As always with soundtracks it will probably make more sense when seen in situ but that said this stands alone very nicely although fans of the man’s withering baritone should be aware this is a mainly instrumental effort.
Josh Marks

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Chickenfoot
Chickenfoot (earMUSIC)

ChickenfootOK so strictly speaking this was released at the arse end of 2009, and the name is a bit of a duffer but for fans of sleek and shiny shred metal Chickenfoot are a proper full-on super-group, and given that they are populated by ex Van Halen chaps Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony, Red Hot Chili Peppers skin walloper Chad Smith and high speed guitar strangler Joe Satriani, you can probably imagine what they sound like? Yup, Van Halen, only a bit funkier, and we’re talking the early ‘fun’ Van Halen here, so win, win really. Oh, and plump for the special edition release for extra DVD larks.
Ray Harper

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Sam Carter
Keepsakes (Captain Records)

Sam Carter Being the ‘Emerging Artist in Residence at London’s Southbank Centre’, and a folky sort who studied guitar under Martin Simpson to boot, is not necessarily going to immediately endear many people to young Sam Carter, but it will certainly be their loss as this very assured effort indeed, and loathe as we are to pigeonhole the poor chap we’d suggest that if you have a penchant for the likes of Davy Graham or early Fairport’s then this album will certainly appeal, but it’s certainly not an exercise in retro folk and will also appeal to those who just like a good song well played and well sung.
Raft Thong

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Crimson Jazz Trio
King Crimson Songbook Vol. II (Panegyric)

Crimson Jazz TrioRecorded a year before drummer Ian Wallace’s sad death from cancer in 2007 these recordings were the brainchild of Wallace, who occupied the KC drummers stool for Islands era Crimson (71/72), and realised with the help of bass player Tim Landers and pianist/vocalist Jody Nardone – and on this album ex-Crimson sax man Mel Collins. To say this works however would be to damn it with the faintest of praise as it really is tremendously good, due in no small part to the players involved, but also to the material which lends itself to such reinvention. Wallace’s musical CV was already pretty impressive, but this is an excellent epitaph.
Paul Riley

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Julian Cope
Peggy Suicide: Deluxe Edition (Island)

Julian CopeReleased after the, frankly rather scary, previous years Skellington and Droolian, Peggy Suicide (91), whilst still a challenging album in places was a much more cohesive and approachable effort made even more so on this re-mastered and expanded version. There have been some complaints about missed opportunities on the bonus disc – no Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy mix of ‘Soldier Blue’ for one – and the track listing on the main disc are incorrect but these small niggles aside this was seen by many as Copes finest solo effort to date and this is a great way to acquaint yourself with the album if you have not done so before.
Ruby Palmer

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Clark
Totems Flare (Warp)

ClarkWhilst Aphex Twin and Squarepusher try to find a way to reinvent the most inventive music to arrive in decades without repeating themselves Chris Clark, with no weight of expectation, calmly continue to deliver the most out there IDM sounds around, marrying acidic squelches, motorik sequences, polyrhythmic about-turns and all out dirty tech-thug beats to just about anything he damn well pleases. Hard to say if this is better or worse than his previous four efforts as they’ve all been uniformly excellent (although this and the previous two Turning Dragon and Body Riddle seem the most fully realised).
Drew Bass

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Terry Callier
Hidden Conversations (Mr Bongo)

Terry CallierThis one has been more or less welded to the player at TM-Towers since the initial muted response has flowered into a general agreement that this is a serious grower. Much has been made of the Massive Attack connection (Robert Del Naja and Neil Davidge co-wrote three tracks – although they probably should have left ‘Live With Me’ alone as this mix isn’t as goosebumpy as the 2006 mix on Massive Attacks’s Collected), but the work of co-writers Chris Grabowski and Mark Hardy (of K Rad) is equally fine creating a slew of fine backdrops for Callier. Of course it would all count for naught if it weren’t for that wonderful voice.
Drew Bass

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Ravi Coltrane
Blending Times (Freeworld)

Ravi ColtraneOf all the people beneath whose shadow you would not wish to crawl blinking into the light – spare a thought for Jakob Dylan, Teddy Thompson, Ziggy Marley, Julian Lennon etc. – you would have to say John Coltrane is right up there with, erm, well God really. But against all the odds Tenor Sax player Ravi shrugs off that mantle admirably well (and let’s not also forget his mother was harp genius Alice Coltrane), whether nodding towards his father on a track like ‘Amalgams’, reworking Thelonious Monk’s Epistrophy or on the beautiful tribute to his late mother ‘For Tiriya’ Ravi Coltrane proves to be an extraordinary talent in his own right.
Paul Riley

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Camel
Rain Dances (Decca).

CamelOne of a trio of expanded Camel releases (including Moonmadness and The Snow Goose), all three of which have much to commend them but Rain Dances benefits particularly from the lugubrious tones of Ex-Caravan vocalist and bass player Richard Sinclair (brought in to replace departed bass player Doug Ferguson), and the numerous wind instruments of ex-King Crimson-ite Mel Collins, both adding to the very English, Canterbury based jazz-prog of Andy Latimer, Andy Ward and Pete Bardens. This is a more accessible Camel but still retains proggy workouts and also includes some production prods from Eno on the proto-ambient ‘Elke’.
Paul Riley

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Bill Callahan
Sometimes I wish We Were An Eagle (Drag City)

Bill CallahanFans of Smog - and if you have never heard Dongs Of Sevotion or Knock Knock then you have two whopping great holes in your music collection – will already know that Smog is Bill Callahan and that this is the second album recorded under his own name. It is also, technically, his most fully realised release to date dipping that wonderfully dry, lo-fi baritone - and always thoughtful, often provocative, regularly witty lyrics - into beautiful string arrangements, the results often leaving you in mind of Nick Drake and on the jaunty ‘Eid Ma Clack Shaw’ he has possibly written the best song of his career to date.
Ruby Palmer

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Capitol K
Notes From Life On A Wire With A Wrecking Ball (Faith & Industry)

Capitol KThe fifth outing for Maltese born Kristian Craig Robinson and once again it’s as hard to pin down as an eel in a jam factory, for those of you unaware of the mans oeuvre imagine skewed, acidic pop played by Can and fronted by Daevid Allen, or Pavement at their most playful mixed by K’s old boss Mike ‘µ-Ziq’ Paradinas and you’re in the general vicinity. Notes From Life On A Wire With A Wrecking Ball is possibly the most sonically accessible release since his ‘almost’ breakthrough album Island Row (although we are using accessible in the loosest possible sense here). Uneasy listening for people who dig their pop warped.
Drew Bass

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Alice Cooper
Along Came A Spider (SPV)

Alice CooperWho would have thought, having sat transfixed in front of Top Of The Pops watching a very scary man in mad make up, torn tights, brandishing a sword and yelling about trashing schools, that the self same chap would still be with us and indeed celebrating his sixtieth birthday by inhabiting the mind of a serial killer, cripes! Veering from Love It To Death era garage chops (‘I’m Hungry’), sludgy riff rocking (a Slash featuring ‘Vengeance Is Mine’), and the usual slowies - Cooper is one of the few rockers to give good ballad, remember ‘Only Women Bleed’? – I'm happy to report the man still has the ability to find raw nerves, and tweak 'em...
Ray Harper

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Camper Van Beethoven
Popular Songs of Great Enduring Strength and Beauty (Cooking Vinyl)

Camper Van BeethovenAlways a difficult band to categorise, given that they were happy to switch from pop to ska, punk rock to folk and country to just about anything they damn well felt like at the drop of a hat - the band actually grew out of the US punk scene but consistently confronted hardcore punk audiences by playing world music and country-fying punk classics. Needless to say this willful dicking about ensured that they sold very little and soon split but they have since regrouped and to re-introduce themselves have released this fine compilation (even re-recording some minor classics which their previous company wouldn’t let them use).
Ruby Palmer

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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! (Mute)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Having categorically kicked out the jams on their recent Grinderman outing Cave and Co. return beneath the Bad Seed umbrella, clearly still in thrall to making a bit of a racket and still crackling and sparking like live wires flapping around pools of water (just check out the number or entirely arbitrary exclamation marks on show!!!). Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! also finds Cave in probably the finest voice of his life and cramming more words per bar into proceedings than prime time Dylan, indeed stand out track ‘We Call Upon The Author’ could well be his finest moment to date. Let’s hope this aggressive streak continues for some time to come.
Ruby Palmer

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Clark
Turning Dragon (Warp)

Clark Apparently a companion piece to his previous, equally excellent, album Body Riddle rather than a brand new statement of intent, if you find the likes of Autechre or Aphex Twin too dissonant but still like your music to judder, glitch and stammer then Clark is your man. Taking a smorgasbord of atonal electronic sci-fi wooby sounds, coupling them with hisses, crackles and white noise but, and get this, then making them sound positively melodic (‘For Wolves Crew’ is so lovely you feel like giving it a great big cuddle) which is almost certainly because it’s creator is as fond of Pavement as he is of Squarepusher.
Drew Bass

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Mason Casey
Sofa King Badass (NorthernBlues Music)

Mason CaseyBlues artists can be as crude as any modern day rap star and Mason Casey is the latest in a long line (the albums title should give you a flavour). Star guests such as Steve Cropper and Jimmy Johnson pepper the album and help him add to his ever growing reputation. His typical New York attitude shines through on blues rockers 'Blue Hair Woman' and, one of the highlights, 'Chesterfield County Jail'. He also does R&B with aplomb on 'Nine Times A Man' and 'Done Crying' but these need more than one listen. The only out and out blues is 'Take Me To The Airport' which shows the real Mason Casey – Sofa King Badass? Sofa King Good!.
David Blue

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The Cult
Born Into This (Roadrunner)

The CultSeems it’s a month for comebacks as Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy resurrect the Cult and, aside from a hefty misstep on the dreadful sub Tindersticks ballad ‘Holy Mountain’ they make a pretty good stab at disinterring some prime-time, old skool, rock'n'rumble bluster. From the ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ ‘woo, woo’ vocal lifting title track onwards (actually they nick Keef’s riff from ‘Undercover’ later on as well) this is great fun with Astbury in great voice and unashamedly cut from the same cloth as Love and Electric. It will go a long way towards helping him back into the game after too long doing Jim Morrison karaoke.


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Carbon/Silicon
Last Post (Carbon Silicon)

Carbon/SiliconThere can be few music fans of a certain age that don’t know that Mick Jones and Tony James met in the mid-seventies and went onto form London S.S before finding fame and fortunes in The Clash and Generation X respectively, but it’s actually Jones apres Clash outfit Big Audio Dynamite, and to a much lesser extent James Sigue Sigue Sputnik, to which their new outfit leans most heavily, although you’re never far from some machine gun punk guitar clatter as subjects like war, terrorism, consumerism and the tabloid press get the Jones patented flat nasal vocal treatment, in short both men doing what they do best, welcome back guys.


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The Chemical Brothers
We Are The Night (Freestyle Dust/Virgin)

The Chemical BrothersAs one of the few remaining acts to emerge from the incredibly vibrant early ‘90s dance scene still bothering the charts (2005’s ‘Galvanize’ from Push The Button was a massive worldwide hit), Tom and Ed obviously see little point in messing too much with what they do, as let’s face it they do it particularly well, so there’s no real surprises here if you know the band, what is surprising is just how many different colours they can still create given the basic big beat palette at their disposal, and a couple of blotchy creations midway doesn’t stop this being yet another multi-hued rainbow collection of brilliant bum shakers.


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The Cinematic Orchestra
Ma Fleur (Ninja Tune)

The Cinematic OrchestraFans of Jason Swinscoe’s Cinematic Orchestra will already be aware of the man’s way with a tune, beavering away in widescreen jazzy ‘soundtrack for a film which doesn’t exist yet ’ territory - although there is apparently a screenplay to which the music relates (albeit one that has yet to be made). This time around he’s slowed things to an almost funereal pace, so much so you occasionally find yourself checking to see if tracks have finished. This is music which demands your attention, but if you give it you will be richly rewarded as repeat listen prove Ma Fleur to be a very beautiful album indeed.


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Ry Cooder
My Name Is Buddy (Nonesuch)

Ry CooderIn a career defined by beguiling twists and turns, it should come as no surprise to find Ry Cooder swapping the Cuban vibes of 2005’s Chavez Ravine for an earthy sound rooted in the American dustbowl on this swift follow-up. Cooder’s lyrical eye is again on matters socio-political, here given focus by an effective allegorical concept that follows Buddy Red Cat, Lefty Mouse and the Reverend Tom Joad as they journey through a mythical version of the American west. While overlong at 17 tracks, there is enough wonderful stuff here – not least angular jazz creation ‘Green Dog’ – to repay the time spent.


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Coryell, Bailey & White
Traffic (Chesky)

Coryell, Bailey & WhiteMuch anticipated follow up to their 2005 debut Electric CBW are something of a jazz rock supergroup featuring fusion guitar great Larry Coryell, ex-Weather Report bass player Victor Bailey and, no stranger to super-groups himself, ex-Return To Forever drummer Lenny White. Recorded live in a New York church (i.e. no attempt is made to edit or overdub the odd mistake), the ‘au naturel’ approach is, initially at least, a little unusual to ears accustomed to buffed up studio efforts - the guitar deeper and drums more to the fore in the mix – but it captures the immediacy of the performance well, and the playing is consistently excellent.


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Comsat Angels
My Minds Eye (Renascent)

Comsat AngelsAnother of those ‘whatever happened to...’ outfits who, for whatever reason, failed to clutch tightly enough to the coattails of whatever passing fad swept them in – in this case the slew of post punk outfits like The Cure, and the Bunnymen. But they left some worthwhile material to pick over, not least this fine effort recorded in the latter part of their career (‘92), which recalls the chiming guitar style of their earlier material (a style said to have influenced the Edge), married to an altogether fuller, more muscular driving song-writing style that really should have seen them sell far more records than they actually managed.


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Bootsy Collins
Christmas Is 4 Ever (Evangeline)

Bootsy CollinsDaft as a bag of idiot fish on crazy pills – we loved the helpful ‘(AKA Jingle Bells)’ addition to the track-listing of Jingle Belz, must be for the white folks eh? – and with a guest list that reads like Funkadelic heaven (Bernie Worrell, Blackbyrd McNight, Bobby Byrd, Fred Wesley, Bobby Womack, and a Christmas message from Mr Clinton himself, to name just a few). OK so most of the tracks are reinterpretations of Standards, but there are four new cuts and that clonking great squelchy bass is all over this like a rash ensuring that even the squirmiest moments (yes, that means you ‘Silent Night’), are still as funky as hell, yeah baby.


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JJ Cale & Eric Clapton
The Road To Escondido (Warners)

Clapton/CaleAs long term God lovers will already be aware, JJ Cale penned two of Eric Clapton's finest solo moments, ‘Cocaine’ and ‘After Midnight’, so this collaboration has almost certainly been in the back of many fans' minds (and at the top of many record company want lists) for a long, long time. Collaboration may be rather too strong a word, however, as Cale’s is the pen behind 11 of the 14 tracks here, and it's certainly his laid back 'after hours' shuffle that informs the proceedings. If things seldom move above a sedate foot tapping pace fans of both men will doubtless find much to love in this low-key melange of blues, jazz, and country.


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The Charlatans
Forever. The Singles (Island)

CharlatansIf, like this writer, The Charlatans’ long and consistent roll-call of singles sometimes passed you by on original release, then here is a welcome opportunity to play catch-up. Recorded for a total of three labels (Beggars Banquet, Island, Sanctuary) and wisely sequenced chronologically, these 18 songs chart a band gradually refining and reinventing its trademark, blues-tinged rock sound. Early hit ‘The Only One I Know’ – driven by late keyboard player Rob Collins’s fiery Hammond licks – remains a high-point, but the likes of more recent single ‘Up At the Lake’ suggest that the band still has plenty of inspiration in reserve.


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Lloyd Cole
Anti Depressant (Sanctuary)

Lloyd ColeLike comparably gifted peer Paddy McAloon, Lloyd Cole’s highly literate approach to songwriting has often made him seem like a man out of time since his mid ‘80s commercial peak with former band the Commotions. Well, it’s the wider public’s loss, as Anti Depressant – following on from 2003’s fine Music In A Foreign Language – confirms Cole still has shedloads of inspiration. Stiletto-sharp allusions to neo-cons, ‘futures’ and Scarlett Johansson prove the pop-cultural antennae remain in full working order, while intimate, ‘one guitar and a G4’-style arrangements provide sensitive context. Sophisticated and stimulating.


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Shawn Colvin
These Four Walls (Nonesuch)

Shawn ColvinA Few Small Repairs, Colvin’s 1996 album, remains a classic of artful singer/songwritery. In truth, she’s struggled to match it since, but These Four Walls – her first for the increasingly-in-vogue Nonesuch – arguably manages the feat. Direct and pared-back, John Leventhal’s warm production offsets Colvin’s voice – up high in the mix and now more affecting than ever – with simple but classy arrangements. More specifically, there are ruminations on childhood (‘Tuff Kid’) and the troubling effects that the passage of time can have on relationships (‘Let It Slide’), not to mention a cracking cover of Paul Westerberg’s ‘Even Here We Are’.


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Johnny Cash
American V: A Hundred Highways (American Recordings)

Johnny CashRecorded in the months leading up to his death in Sept 2003, his wife June having passed away in May, the work here is what kept Cash focussed, and in truth this is not an easy album to listen to, tracks which might seem horribly maudlin sung by a healthy performer lent incredible gravitas when the listener is so aware of the circumstances surrounding their creation, opening track ‘Help Me’ is particularly poignant given his wife’s passing and the last track he ever penned ‘Like The 309’, which concerns loading his coffin onto a train is a particularly moving way to add a full stop to this remarkable career.


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Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint
The River In Reverse (Verve Forecast)

Scott MatthewsAnother joint venture for the increasingly collaboration-inclined Costello sees him pair up with legendary producer and arranger Allen Toussaint. A benefit show for Toussaint’s hometown of New Orleans was the original spur, and the stately title track is an appropriately mournful rumination on the city’s then-recent devastation. It proves the centrepiece of a strong collection that encompasses both recreations of Toussaint classics (including ‘Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further?’) and a handful of freshly co-written tunes. But it’s the punchy, dynamic backing of Elvis’s band, The Imposters, that really lifts this into a higher league.


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Calexico
Garden Ruin (City Slang)

CalexicoCalexico are one of those bands for whom regular critical acclaim consistently fails to convert into units shifted, their Tex-Mex, Morricone-esque, cinematic, mariachi horn driven songs perfect soundtracks for driving across the desert but seldom visitors to MTV or the upper reaches of the charts. Garden Ruin may possibly change all that as this is easily Calexico’s most accessible album - and in the Document era REM-esque ‘Deep Down’, beautifully ethereal ‘Smash’ and the magnificent slow building show-stopper of an end-piece ‘All Systems Red’ three of their finest pieces of work to date – but don’t hold your breath.


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Graham Coxon
Love Travels At Illegal Speeds (Parlophone)

Graham CoxonIt may seem unlikely but this is actually Graham Coxon’s sixth solo album and as each one moved further and further away from the original’s scratchy lo-fi template, perhaps the most underrated guitarist of his generation, really hit his stride with 2004’s Happiness In Magazines and now this even more fully realised effort, which it has to be said bears more than a passing resemblance to Blur at their best. Ostensibly an album about love (the highs and, more often, the lows) Love Travels At Illegal Speeds clatters along in a fine old style, delivering track after track of classy (catchy) chorus laden rock.


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Cat Power
The Greatest (Matador)

Cat PowerThose of you already in thrall to the joys of Chan Marshall’s back catalogue will doubtless already have this comfortably nestled in your CD rack, those of you new to Ms Marshall however would do well to acquaint yourselves with this a.s.a.p. The central point of reference is still that hypnotically beautiful voice but, unlike her last few outings (in fact much of her recorded output), the supporting cast moves beyond Marshall’s spare, downbeat, guitar/piano backing to include a sterling line-up of Memphis muso’s fleshing out the majority of The Greatest into an altogether more upbeat, and certainly more accessible, beast.


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Coldcut
Sound Mirrors (Ninja Tune)

ColdcutHaving never achieved the chart ubiquity of some of their more feted dance peers it would be easy to view Coldcut as their era’s nearly men when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed Jonathan More and Matt Black always were the most open-minded, thought-provoking, experimentalists of their era – just as likely to work with ex-Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra as early cut and paste pioneer Steinski - (not to mention founding classy independent label Ninja Tune), and Sound Mirrors may well be their masterpiece, gleefully mooching all over the place stylistically whilst retaining their wonderfully atuned ear(s) for a top tune.

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Ben Christophers
Viewfinder (Rocketeer)

Ben ChristophersAnother artist making the most of the immediate nature of the world wide interweb, this download only release is described by Ben as “a one-off album that is basically a demo” created by “experiment(ing) ruthlessly”. Now this sort of muso-speak is generally best paraphrased as ‘I had a load of so-so old tapes I needed to clear out’, but in this case is actually exactly as described. Veering between beautiful ballads, wheezing sci-fi and spooked ambience, Viewfinder successfully captures the spontaneity of a thoughtful and thought provoking artist in the act of creation and prompts one to wonder why he would bother working any other way now?


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Cream
Royal Albert Hall [Live] (WEA)

CreamGo on, be honest, given Eric Clapton’s recent lacklustre output who amongst you honestly thought this reunion show was going to amount to anything more than a pale imitation of the – now approaching forty year old - original? Well you (and we, we admit it), were wrong as these resultant recordings lifted from those four nights at the Albert Hall in May this year prove. They may all be approaching bus pass territory (in fact Ginger Baker may already qualify), but this is far from a pedestrian chug through their back catalogue, the resultant years lending added depth and just the right amount of restraint to a set full of classic songs


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John Cale
Black Acetate (EMI)

John Cale Cale has dabbled in many a generic music pool over the years, from avante garde noise to accessible pop, from classical to country, punk to funk and beyond the man recognises no musical boundaries consequently his albums have seldom sold by the bucket-load. Black Acetate, the follow up to the critically acclaimed Hobosapiens, may however be just the album to buck that trend as, although it does once again charge all over the shop, it hangs together stylistically in much the same way as say the Gorillaz or Beck at his best and as such might just encourage people outside Cale’s hardcore followers to dip a toe in the water

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Johnny Cash
The Legend Boxset (Sony/BMG)

Johnny CashLavish is probably too small a word for the deluxe edition of this box-set – which includes a coffee table book, exclusive lithograph, bonus DVD and extra CD - celebrating the 50th anniversary of Johnny Cash’s first single. Collecting hits, favourites, rarities and duets with the likes of Bob Dylan, U2, Elvis Costello, Ray Charles and more, 104 songs in total from his 1955 debut all the way up to cuts in 2002 with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and if Jesus gets rather too much CD space for the less pious fan there’s still acres of classic and classy Cash, that voice as warm and mellifluous as a well full of honey


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Coldplay
X&Y (EMI)

ColdplayAnother eagerly awaited return from yet another band with a massive debut and multi-million selling follow up to live up to and, like Oasis, the results are not at all bad. Like Oasis they’re on a hiding to nothing having achieved such conspicuous early success, and all the pressure that brings definitely can’t be conducive to creative song-writing, but songs like Low and Twisted Logic are easily as good as anything the band have done to date and whilst it’s not quite the U2 de-throning effort Chris Martin might have hoped for it’s still a damn good Coldplay album, and under the circumstances that’s no small achievement


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Dave Clarke
World Service 2 (Resist)

Dave ClarkeIf anyone out there is considered drawing up a list of just who is still carrying the torch for techno and electro music in these dark ‘dance music is dead’ days then the mighty Dave Clarke should certainly be high up in the rankings, which even the most cursory listen to this Technics DZ 1200 mashed double CD mix proves. Whether squelching asymmetrically through the Electro CD or thudding like a bison on disco biscuits through the techno CD this glorious collection of his current favourite floor fillers proves that in the right hands dance music is still capable of raising temperatures, heartbeats and hackles


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Cream
I Feel Free – Ultimate Cream (Polydor)

CreamUnlike many a so-called ‘ultimate collection’ this can in all honesty lay claim to such an epithet containing, as it does, pretty much all the recorded Cream output you might ever want to own. Split into Studio recordings, live recordings and for those of you that plump for the triple CD boxset the complete BBC Sessions these remastered classics now positively sparkle and crackle with energy, and contrary to opinions expressed elsewhere on this site prove Clapton, Bruce and Baker to be three of the finest musicians of their era, and Cream to be the first ‘true’ supergroup. Replace your old Vinyl now.


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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus (Mute)

Nick CaveNick Cave has described this double CD set as "a work of genius" (the self-effacing, reticent old bugger), boasting songs which run the gamut of mad, bug-eyed testifying, out and out pop via gospel and beyond and finds Cave in the best vocal (and lyrical) form of his life. It also reveals the Bad Seeds - veering from swampy blues through widescreen melancholia and onto tight upbeat pummeling - to be one of the finest bands around. Far from missing the recently departed Blixa Bargeld the Seeds have coalesced into a fearsomely tight-nit outfit and created a brave, beautiful, grim, exhilarating, redemptive and incredibly ambitious collection.
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Chemical Brothers
Push The Button (Freestyle Dust/Virgin)

Chemical Brothers After a disappointing recent effort by the Prodigy and the retirement of Orbital there must have been a whole raft of clubbers of a certain age actively willing The Chemical Brothers to nail this mutha, hell dance music is about as popular a word around record companies and music papers of late little short of a serious return to form was gonna do. The good news? Mr Rowlands and Mr Simons have indeed nailed this mutha, and with the odd exception Push The Button does just that, bloc-rockin’ up a landslide of jack-hammer beat monsters. Welcome back guys, you’ve been missed.

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Cornel Campbell
Natty Dread - Anthology (Trojan)

Cornel CampbellThought by many to have been one of the finest vocalists to ever to come out of Jamaica – an obvious contender, along with Dennis Brown, for Bob Marley’s crown - Cornel Campbell has actually been around since the 50’s, but it’s the ‘70s lovers/rockers era on which this collection concentrates. Both Bunny Lee and Tapper Zukie used Campbell’s Curtis Mayfield/Sam Cooke influenced falsetto to wondrous effect and pretty much anything you could want from this era (including cuts with Linval Thompson) are here including the hits Queen Of The Minstrel, Girl Of My Dreams and the wonderful Dance In A Greenwich Farm.


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Colleen
The Golden Morning Breaks (The Leaf Label)

ColleenRecorded, unlike her previous outing (Everyone Alive Wants Answers), with nary a sample in sight, this time around Cécile Schott populates The Golden Morning Breaks with a variety of gentle ululating, slowly evolving sounds using guitars, keyboards and slightly more obscure instruments like a Glass Harmonium. The results, entirely free of percussive assistance are, on the whole, enchanting, and if things occasionally veer towards the slightly whimsical the end results are never twee, the tendency to meander reigned in by limiting all but one of the tracks to sub six minute sketches (most clocking in around the three minute mark)..


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Phil Collins
The Platinum Collection (Virgin)

Phil CollinsLong before Phil Collins became such an irritating cartoon oaf he was still Phil Collins, from Genesis, drummer with Brand X and skin whacker of choice to the likes of John Martyn, Brian Eno, John Cale, Robert Fripp and old ‘Percy’ Plant. Oh yes, Phil was the nuts, and his first three solo albums (two of which, Face Value and No Jacket Required are included on this 3-CD box) were really impressive. Liberally peppered with EWF’s brilliant Phoenix Horns and numerous top quality mates, all three albums still hold up brilliantly well today. Dump those prejudices and listen, you won’t be sorry.

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