Latest CD releases reviewed

Latest CD releases reviewed

A Boot and a Shoe Nonesuch

Sharing her name with the late founder of Sun Records and her bed with husband T-Bone Burnett, the lady born Leslie Phillips has moved from Christian music to adult contemporary to her current - and most fruitful - style, a sparse, semi-acoustic kind of roots loungecore. This is the lady's latest, produced by hubby, naturally, and featuring a small coterie of co-musicians, including drummers Carla Azar and Jim Keltner, guitarists Marc Ribot and Chris Bruce, and the Section String Quartet. Phillips has a fine, earthy voice, like a cabaret singer at a Texas brothel, and the songs are simple and unadorned without sounding either folksy or countrified. Her songwriting has a deft, unforced touch, and the sparse production (you can hear the creaks, swishes and extraneous sounds) gets straight to the kernels of songs such as How to Quit, All Night, Reflecting Light, Draw Man, If I Could Write and Hole in My Pocket. Kevin Courtney

Michigan  Rough Trade

Only being released in Ireland and the UK after the critical success of his superb second album, Seven Swans, singer and songwriter Sufjan Stevens's first album marks the beginning of a career-long project to record an album about each of the American states. Composed, arranged, performed and produced by Stevens, it also marks the arrival of a major new songwriting talent - its instrumental colours (banjo, piano, English horn, xylophone and electric guitar), vocal harmonies and musical arrangements are more intricate and supple than on Seven Swans. Stevens effortlessly and imaginatively combines acoustic folk and alt.rock with social comment, pastoral description and spiritual confession to create an intensely lyrical and (unusually) joyful collection of songs, from the elegiac Flint (For The Unemployed and Underpaid) and the bittersweet nostalgic Romulus to the exultant Sleeping Bear Sault Saint Marie and the celebratory Vito's Ordination Song. Michigan is sublime. - Jocelyn Clarke

Affirmation EMI

It's never been easy for UK urban acts - no matter how good they are, they're always going to lose out to their US cousins, especially when up against acts such as Usher, Beyoncé and Mario Winans. Beverley Knight has a classic soul voice (vide the hit Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda) and has been nominated for the Mercury prize. Affirmation sees her ditching the latest r 'n' b production techniques to concentrate on the songwriting. It all pays off: Knight's voice is wonderful and she soars her way through her most personal collection of songs to date. A bit more mainstream than her previous albums, so expect these songs to take up residence on a radio near you. Whether she can give her US sistas a run for their money is all down to promotional budgets. - Brian Boyd

A Girl Called Eddy  Anti

A girl called Eddy is Eddie Moran, a New Yorker with a taste for English weather. She decamped to Sheffield to get the right tone for her début album because "the rain suits the mood of the songs". How right she is. This is the diary of a relationship that has run its course, told with regret and gentle longing. Tears All Over Town filters the spirit of Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins, The Long Goodbye recalls the lazy bite of Chrissie Hyde, and, throughout, Moran's husky voice carries echoes of Beth Orton - all the while injecting touches of genuine sadness that Orton never quite tapped. A further draw for Moran in Sheffield was the shamefully under-rated Richard Hawley. The former Pulp man produces, plays guitar and quietly does his bit to raise this album well above the average end-of-the-affair collection. A sad, pretty record for the empty moments at 4am when the wine's run out and the sun has yet to rise. - Paul McNamee

Until Today  Crazy Mo Records

There's an endearing and refreshing naiveté in Gavin Moore's début. Lyrically awkward on matters of the heart, he's more adept at tackling life's grander questions, including those of personal identity and survival, with a fine pop sensibility. At times the booming production is undermined by the creaky lyrics (She Wanted whispers of schoolboy angst rather than world-weary lover), but there's an honesty and freshness in the production that ultimately overrides the creaking joints. He could so easily have been distracted by a heavy duty guest list that includes uncles Christy and Luka, not to mention Roy Harper, but this Moore is one with his eye on his own prize. And one suspects that's more likely to be hidden in the undergrowth than glistening on a podium. - Siobhán Long

Modern Apprentice  Fantastic Plastic Records

With their début album, Chat and Business, this London quartet came across as politely aggressive but hardly likely to take on the big noises in rock. Since then, they've rolled up their sleeves, gotten their collars blue and dirty, and are ready to fight the post-punk wars. They've recruited a new bass player, Tracy Bellaries, who, with guitarist and vocalist Claire Ingram, evens out the band's boy-girl ratio. Lead vocalist Paul Resende has buffed up his Mark E. Smith squall and added some spiky Iggy Pop shrieks. There's an itchy urgency to I Wanna Be That Way, Wake in the City, I'm With Stupid and How's the World Gonna Take You Now?, and a languid menace to Modern Feeling and Waste Ground, but for all their newfound power and purpose, Ikara Colt are still saddled with a slightly irritating jerkiness. www.ikaracolt.comKevin Courtney