This week's album releases

RYAN ADAMS | Heartbreaker PAUL SIMON | You're The One VARIOUS ARTISTS | Songs in the Key of Z FINLEY QUAYE | Vanguard
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RYAN ADAMS | Heartbreaker (Cooking Vinyl)

RYAN ADAMS | Heartbreaker (Cooking Vinyl)

Ryan Adams is the frontman of acclaimed country-rockers Whiskeytown, here giving full rein to his more personal singer-songwriter impulse on this splendid solo début. Packed with love plaints and heartaches, it's presented in Dylanesque style with help notably from Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. The album opens with Ryan and the latter arguing about Morrissey's "Suedehead", an apt prelude to the sparky celebration of youthful melancholy "To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high)", on which Ryan's electric guitar stings like Mike Bloomfield's on Highway 61 Revisited; the Dylan feel recurs in several other places, most effectively on the sardonic "Come Pick Me Up". Elsewhere, Chamberlin flute and strings add their own peculiar lustre to the serpentine melody of "AMY" and the mournful "Call Me On Your Way Back Home", while the dry plunk of banjo and Welch's mountain harmonies lend an attractively antique, weatherbeaten tone to "Bartering Lines" and "In My Time Of Need". Blessed with a beguiling voice, the result is one of the year's most distinctive roots-rock exercises. Recommended.

PAUL SIMON | You're The One (Warner Bros)

With You're The One, Paul Simon tries to regain some of the space he had chipped out for himself before the disaster of the Capeman musical, but try as he might in songs like "Hurricane Eye" and "Look At That" to summon up the epiphanic spirit of Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints, there's little here that comes close to shining like a National guitar. The nearest he gets is the title-track, a perky reflection on how love falls short of expectations, set to the subtle spring of a rhythm section that typically blends the talents of several continents, matching R&B drum legend Steve Gadd with the elastic bass and guitar of Bakithi Kumalo and Vincent Nguini. Elsewhere, sadly, the underwhelming tales of hope and human frailty fail to capture one's imagination, sounding more than ever like the maunderings of Woody Allen with his "serious" hat on, right down to the back-trackings of unreliable narrators and the unrewarding attempts at grappling with big subjects like life, faith, destiny and time. The clumsy revenge fable "Pigs, Sheep and Wolves" marks a particularly embarrassing point in the career of this usually dependable songwriter.

VARIOUS ARTISTS | Songs in the Key of Z (Cherry Red)

That's the key of Z as in completely off the scale, and perhaps as in Zappa, this compilation of "Outsider Music" features the kind of freaks whose works he once curated through his Straight and Bizarre labels. Ranging from idiot savants such as Daniel Johnston, The Shaggs and Tiny Tim to genuine talents like Joe Meek (featured on the original strained vocal demo of "Telstar") and Captain Beefheart (a "Vampire Suite" which tracks the progress of the song "Making Love to a Vampire With a Monkey On My Knee" from first whistled melody idea through to final Magic Band arrangement), it's a fascinating survey of the more distant fringes of pop, where popular music goes so far beyond unpopular that it emanates a strange, hypnotic appeal of its own. Several of the 20 tracks are just hilarious rubbish, but among the mud shines a true pearl of inspiration like "Stout-Hearted Men", by Shooby Taylor The Human Horn, a bout of demented free-form scat-singing that brings an almost religious dimension to musical madness: truly, this man talks in tongues. An indispensable antidote to bland corporate offerings.

FINLEY QUAYE | Vanguard (Epic)

Green Day's Billie Joe possesses one of the most annoying voices in rock'n'roll - not annoying in a confrontational, Johnny Rotten sense, but in a smug, self-pitying, privileged, typically American, wrong-end-of-the-stick "punk" sense. He and his band certainly have a lot to answer for: without their 20 million album sales, there would probably be no Bloodhound Gang, no Limp Bizkit, no Slipknot, no tedious sportz-metal scene at all. But extraordinarily, Green Day's elevated multi-millionaire status appears to have brought them no new insights - which they probably regard as evidence of their punk "authenticity". Apart from the ghastly accordion oompah polka "Misery", their sixth album, Warning, reveals no significant departures from their standard formula, which seems designed to wring the dullest possible results out of the basic guitar/bass/drums line-up. They're the American Stereophonics, if you like, grinding out their fifth-hand punk-pop denunciations of sitting targets like "Fashion Victim" with little regard for originality of thought or music. Their anti-establishment attitudes are so much window-dressing: pre-packaged protest for Yankee brats.