ALBUM REVIEWS

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The Independent Culture
Shawn Colvin `Holiday Songs and Lullabies' (Columbia) The Grammy- winning, platinum-selling Ms Colvin joins the growing number of sentimental Americans doing seasonal albums. As you'd expect, the vocals are good, as is the playing, but it's overly precious and yet another cover of "Silent Night" is unnecessary. HH

Fear of Pop `Volume 1' (Epic) This album of instrumental music and spoken word by Ben Folds is nothing like anything that the Ben Folds Five have done before, but its quirks will appeal to their fans and to Trekkies as well - William Shatner speaks over "In Love". HHH

Busta Rhymes `ELE (The Final World Front)' (East West) Focusing on pre-millennial tension, Busta's third album is crammed with hilarious skits and solid rap. Though it runs to more than 70 minutes, interest is maintained thanks to many brilliant one-liners and great collaborations with Janet Jackson and Ozzy Osbourne. HHHH

RZA As Botty Digital `In Stereo' (Gee Street) In an excellent year for hip-hop, this is one of the strangest yet most indisposable albums of that genre, with Wu-Tang Clan's RZA adopting the BD alter-ego. Set to some of hip-hop's most inventive soundscapes ever, you could play this for days and still only get a hint of its greatness. HHHH

Son Volt `Wide Swing Tremolo' (Warner Bros) While REM were getting mega-hyped, this superior gem of wistful midwestern rock slipped through the net. Ex-Uncle Tupelo seminalist Jay Farrar, who wrote all the songs, has come close to the form of Son Volt's debut "Trace" - one of the greatest records of the decade. HHHH

SINGLE OF THE WEEK

B*Witched "To You I Belong" (Epic) OK, so it's throwaway pop but even when doing a ballad like this, they sound as if they're having fun. It sets them apart from po-faced chart rivals like All Saints and B*Witched who would never choose to murder a song like "Under the Bridge". HH

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