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Jon Langford "Skull Orchard" (Sugar Free) After over 20 years playing in groups, Langford's first solo album is probably the most straight ahead rock project he's done but it's a gem. Now living in Chicago he looks back at his roots with angst, feeling, a touch of folk sensibility and sharp wit. HHHH

Beverley Knight "Prodigal Sista" (Parlophone Rhythm Series) This major label debut from the soulful 24-year-old Wolverhampton diva adds brightness and diversity to the usually slushy R&B genre. It should help her rise from clubland favourite to the big time with its outstanding vocals and personal lyrics that avoid the self-pity. HHHH

Quickspace "Precious Falling" (Kitty Kitty Corporation) The resolutely independent Quickspace might now get the widescale recognition they deserve. Throughout this lengthy album they twist and weave their guitars to ensure every body part gets affected while the keyboards create stunning beeps and bontempi ballads. HHHH

Red Star Belgrade "End of the Line" (Loose/Rykodisc) This husband and wife team offer strong songs reminiscent of Neil Young's Freedom/Weld era. However they inject extra angst and vocalist Bill Curry creates a twisted brand of Southern noir, with power guitars and quirky harmonies creating everything from chilling ballads to sharp pop. HHH

Volume All Star "Close Encounters of the Bump and Grind" (Too Pure) Living in a cartoon dream world in Seattle, Volume All Star lay down over an hour of happy and quirky hip-hop with fun bleeps, sonic wobbles, B-movie samples, electro-pop charm, the occasional jazzy groove and a bit of country kitsch for good measure. It all adds up to good horizontal fun. HHH


Fu Manchu "Jailbreak" (Mammoth/Polydor) Thin Lizzy's rock standard gets a fond reworking by Fu Manchu who insert their trademark stoner groove. With the rumbling bass, wall of guitar and Scott Hill's laconic vocals, what you get is an improvement on the original. HHHHH