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The Independent Culture
The Handsome Family `Down in the Valley' (Loose)

This Chicago husband-and-wife duo make noir alt-country sounds with lyrics that are beyond offbeat, and possess an overall style that's genuinely inventive and, that oft-misused word, unique. These strange but accessible tracks, gathered from the past five years, will confuse yet ultimately amuse. HHHH

Ani DiFranco `To the Teeth' (Cooking Vinyl)

DiFranco's third album in a year certainly doesn't lack ideas. It's a sprawling masterpiece that piles punk, funk, jazz, political attitude and guest vocals from The Artist and Maceo Parker on to her bewitching folk foundation. HHHH

The Corrs `MTV Unplugged' (143/Lava/Atlantic)

Squeaky clean they may be, but the Corrs cut it live - despite syrupy moments and the acoustic treatment not adding much to the hits. There's a good version of Phil Lynott's "Old Town", and single-to-be "Radio" is supremely catchy. HHH

Ian Brown `Golden Greats' (Polydor)

The second album from the ex-Stone Roses "singer" is an improvement over his previous effort but still vehemently non-commercial. While this might be laudable, these experimental sounds, grafted onto Brown's enduring baggy template, ultimately swirl, swagger and shift around to no memorable effect. HH

Various Artists `Bob Marley: Chant Down Babylon' (Tuff Gong/Island)

Twelve, predominantly rap, artists sing along with Marley in this patchily curated album, which fails to convince that such studio wizardry is necessarily a good idea. Still, good moments include contributions from The Roots, Chuck D and Guru. HH


Beverly Knight `Sista Sista' (Parlophone Rhythm Series)

After enjoying Top 20 successes with the upbeat "Made It Back 99" and "Greatest Day" numbers, the best voice in Britain goes mid-tempo with this powerful deep-soul ballad - and in the process once again proves that she is able to compete with anything that America can produce. HHHH