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Nadine Shah, "Filthy Underneath" (EMI North)

Gifted with a sumptious voice that tickles Shirley Bassey territory, and a vibrato that adds depth - of anger, pain, or joy - to anything she sings, Nadine Shah is also a writer of stunning songs. Hugely generous in confessional detail, her way with song structure and catchy choruses constantly surprises. Co-produced, as (almost) ever, with Ben Hillier (Depeche Mode,  but also Graham Coxon and Melt Yourself Down), the sound, too, is far from the usual "singer-songwriter fare". Instead of guitars, intense percussion, darkly looming bass riffs as well as subtle piano and synth parts dominate proceedings - apart, of course, from that voice. Truly terrific.

Marry Waterson & Adrian Crowley, "Cuckoo Storm" (OLI)

Dubliner Adrian Crowley has the sort of baritone that would turn hell into a refuge of peace and calm. He is also a multi-instrumentalist (piano, guitar, mellotron, harmonium, clarinet, etc.) who is well aware of the power of silence. Marry Waterson is part of the great Waterson clan - mother Lal and uncle Mike were responsible for the wonderful "Bright  Phoebus" album -, a fact you can easily hear in the timbre of her voice as well as the melodies she creates. Hers and Crowleys muses and voices fit each other like a glove. The arrangements – cello, trumpet, sax etc are provided by guests - are  almost minimalist in their restraint without ever feeling stiff.  Waterson's «Leviathan» and Crowleys «Watching the Starlings» are the highlights amongst highlights.

Bill Ryder-Jones, "Iechid Da" (Domino)

"I made the mistake with “Yawn”, of just letting the music be exactly how I felt, and it was so unpleasant", is the Ex-Coral's candid appraisal of his last album: "So it was definitely a conscious effort to use my time wisely this time and try make music that made me happy." "Iechid Da" harks back in style and even lyrical references to his second LP "A Bad  Wind Blows in My Heart".  Gorgeously orchestrated, these songs sound as natural as if they were picked from a tree, and  Ryder-Jones has the voice and the technique to do them justice. "This Can't Go On" is the best song Mercury Rev never wrote. The sound is often very big but never feels bombastic. Wonderful all round, including the cover.