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The Beatles: Anthology 3 (double CD/triple LP/double tape). Confirming the theory that the Beatles' Anthologies get better as they go along, this final scrapbook bulges with songs that found their way onto The White Album, Let It Be, Abbey Road, and even some post-Beatles solo albums. However, far from being the barrel-scraping variations that cluttered the previous Anthologies, most of the versions here are valid, valuable alternative cuts. Predominantly, they are demos: slower than we are used to, more intimate, often played on an acoustic guitar, or with a casual backing. The fine melodies and warm, throaty vocals are exposed (McCartney's reputation, in particular, gets a buffing) and the Beatles' gift for composing, harmonising, and joking spontaneously and brilliantly is exposed along with them. Not all 50 of the tracks are equally pleasurable, however. Some are just familiar songs with different sound effects, and a couple of the previously unreleased tracks are only rudimentary sketches. Once again, the Anthology can't decide whether it is a completist's archive or a cohesive album. Still, with two-and-a-half hours to fill, it can't please all the people all the time. Programme your CD player properly and you'll have the ultimate Unplugged album, and fresh evidence that the Beatles really were the best pop group ever. Nicholas Barber

Iris Dement: The Way I Should (Warner, CD/LP/tape). Given the current commercial imperative for female singer-songwriters to wear not only their hearts but their intestines on their sleeves, the unhistrionic directness of this country-folk troubadour is revolutionary. From the acerbic social commentary of "Wasteland of the Free" to the harrowing child-abuse confessional of "Letter to Mom", Dement handles sombre subject matter with deftness and delicacy; jauntier moments like the devil-may- care title track have a lovely bluegrass spring in their step. Ben Thompson


A Hilliard Songbook: New Music for Voices. The Hilliard Ensemble (ECM, two CDs). The Hilliard Ensemble has a double life. After 22 years on the early-music circuit, it can reasonably be called one of the most prominent vocal groups of its kind, hugely in demand for pre-18th- century unaccompanied repertory. But it has also acquired something like cult status in the music of our own time, amassing a collection of works specially written for its uncommon, all-male line-up of counter-tenor, two tenors and bass. These discs gather together some of the best of their recent commissions (and a few items which have become theirs by association); the result is a fascinating document of where virtuoso small-scale choral music stands today. There's something here for every taste - exquisitely performed across the board, and heartening as evidence of true, surviving craft in the contemporary market. Michael White