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Bob Dylan: World Gone Wrong (Columbia, all formats). Say what you like about the end of the world, but it certainly brings the best out of Bob Dylan. He's decided that we're all going to hell in a handbasket, and this is his soundtrack for the trip: an all-solo acoustic album of traditional songs whose mood veers from sombre to angry. Whereas last year's superficially similar Good As I Been to You showed the humour and cunning that beguiled Greenwich Village 30 years ago, World Gone Wrong avoids any such tricks of seduction. The voice is subdued, although still incomparably subtle, flicking in an instant from the regretful reverie of 'Delia' to the edgy whine of 'Stack-a-lee', with many shades in between; behind it, the guitar renounces flashy fingerpicking in favour of a bluntness that recalls the most direct of the great country bluesmen. His sources include Blind Willie McTell, the New Lost City Ramblers, Doc Watson and the Mississippi Sheiks, and he does them proud in a release that may turn out to stand with Blood on the Tracks and Oh Mercy as his best since the mid-Sixties. It isn't comfortable listening, but those who think it's Bob Dylan's job to cheer us up need their heads examining, not his. Richard Williams

Phil Collins: Both Sides (Virgin, CD/LP/tape). Patron saint of ersatz soul sludge in spontaneous self-expression shock] Well, almost. This album was delivered six months early - which given the proximity of Christmas, probably didn't upset Virgin as much as has been claimed - and Collins plays all the instruments himself. The music is the familiar soft wash, but the words are sombre, personal and sometimes painful. This is not quite another Face Value, but some of the songs will cause frosty silences across the Collins breakfast table. The love songs - however maudlin - work better than the attempts at social comment, three of which are bad enough to hold their heads up next to 'Another Day in Paradise'. Ben Thompson

Tom Waits: The Black Rider (Island, CD/LP/ tape). 'A bedtime story, something to scare your children' is how Waits describes his latest slab of American gothic. Adapted from his own score, with words by William S Burroughs, to Robert Wilson's opera of the same name, it's a typically dark but unexpectedly rewarding piece of work. The opening carnival barker has it about right - 'You'll see the three-headed baby, you'll see Hitler's brain'. Having won a devoted following with Swordfishtrombones and Raindogs, Tom has tortured them with a series of records that have not so much flirted with unlistenability as gone steady with it, but this is much more satisfying than last year's grisly Bone Machine. Waits's ghoulish wheezing and Salvation- Army-band-from-hell music make much more sense in a fairy-tale context. 'That's the Way' and 'I'll Shoot the Moon' are two lovely ballads. And no record which has William Burroughs singing 'T'aint no sin to take off your skin' can be safely overlooked. BT

Various Artists: Stone Free - A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix (Reprise, CD/LP/tape). The tribute album was a jolly notion at first - a show of respect, a bit of fun for charity - but a depressing pattern quickly developed of lesser talents borrowing greatness's clothes, and Hendrix's spirit and genius would, you'd think, be wholly beyond the reach of most. But what looks like a ragbag - Seal and Jeff Beck? PM Dawn? - turns out to be a thoughtfully chosen cross- section of Jimi's influence and sources, and all concerned raise their game to produce a number of welcome surprises (well, almost all; Nigel Kennedy and The Cure, see me after school). Eric Clapton's 'Stone Free' is the spunkiest thing he's done in ages, and Ice-T's thrash-metal supremos BodyCount produce a delightfully muted 'Hey Joe'. The Pretenders' 'Bold As Love' and Belly's 'Are You Experienced?' are fit to touch the hem of their originals' garments, and even the Spin Doctors' 'Spanish Castle Magic' will not have the great man spinning in his plot. BT

Lisa Stansfield: So Natural (BMG/Arista, CD/ LP/tape). 'Everything just fell into place,' says Lisa (below) of the making of her third album, and unfortunately that's just how it sounds. The moments of idiosyncrasy and earthiness that have enlivened her smooth lite soul are getting fewer and further between. Prolonged exposure to Stansfield and boyfriend Ian Devaney's endless paeans to their sweet sweet love will fill the listener with the desire to take holy orders. 'Marvellous and Mine' is quite catchy, 'In All the Right Places' has a nice Bond-theme sweep about it, and 'She's Always There' is a rare moment of sparkiness. Otherwise this is dull stuff. BT

Jackson Browne: I'm Alive (Elektra, CD/ tape). As Malibu burns, and philosophers rake the ashes for the signs of divine wrath, perhaps it's time to listen again to the best analyst of Southern California's troubled conscience. Clearly uncomfortable with the synthesisers and electronic drums that featured on his late- Eighties albums, Browne returns to the style that made him famous, which will please introspective mid-lifers with a liking for melodic folk-rock balladry. He's a craftsman whose range spans the gentle humour of 'My Problem Is You' and the naked lover's plea of 'I'll Do Anything', which matches anything on Late for the Sky or The Pretender. RW



Vaughan Williams: Five Tudor Portraits, etc. Bach Choir, New Philharmonia/Willcocks (EMI, CD). Classic choral recording from the Sixties. Michael White

Schumann: Dichterliebe, Liederkreis, Op 39. Thomas Quasthoff/Roberto Szidon (RCA Red Seal, CD). Finely shaded, focused singing from Quasthoff, a true lieder specialist. MW

k d lang: Even Cowgirls get the Blues (Sire, LP/ CD/tape). Instrumentals and vocal performances to bring out the cowgirl in everyone. BT

Us 3: Canteloop (Flip Fantasia) (from Hand on the Torch, Blue Note). It's the soundtrack to a fried-chicken ad, but that doesn't devalue this gloriously impudent jazz-and-hip-hop fusion, based on a piano sample from Herbie Hancock's 1964 'Canteloupe Island'. RW

Aphex Twin: On (Warp, single). Sparse and ethereal electronica; as spooky as it gets. BT

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