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NEW RELEASES

Morten Harket: Wild Seed (WEA, CD/LP/tape). When you hear Morten Harket sing "Tonight there is a fever in my veins" on the opening song of his first solo album, try not to get too excited - he doesn't mean the Saturday Night or Peggy Lee strains, but the sort of fever that leaves you lethargic and swigging at Lucozade. If A-ha was his Wham! then Wild Seed is his Listen Without Prejudice, a collection of aching ballads which cover everything from tortured love to painful longing. Not a lot of ground. Even less when sung over music which belongs in a lift, despite the majesty of Harket's voice. He has also begun to wonder about this politics lark, but the best you can say about the conscientious "East Timor" is that it has a nice ebbing string section (the worst you can say is that it wouldn't make the grade on a Nik Kershaw album). Harket told me that Wild Seed is the sound of him discovering his primal self. What a disappointment it must be for him to have dug this deep only to find that his inner beast is impeccably well-behaved. Ryan Gilbey

Various Artists: Universal Sounds of America (Soul Jazz, CD/LP). A celestial theme runs throughout this superb compilation of frontier-stomping Seventies jazz. From Pharoah Sanders's "Astral Travelling" to Sun Ra's epoch-making "Space is the Place", the evocation of outer worlds is not a means of escape but of engagement with a place where - to quote June Tyson's vocal on the mighty Sun Ra opus, "Your thought is free". The material-poverty- equals-spiritual-riches equation is always bogus, but there is an undeniably striking contrast here between the austerity of the circumstances in which this defiantly independent black American music was made, and the opulence and vigour of the sounds themselves. Art Ensemble of Chicago's extraordinary "Theme de Yo Yo" - "Your eyes are two blind eagles that kill what they can't see / Your hands are like two shovels digging in me" - makes a strong claim to being the funkiest recording ever made. Ben Thompson

Palace Music: Viva Last Blues (Domino, CD/LP). Ten more songs from the prolific pen of Louisville, Kentucky's Will Oldham. The solo acoustic set-up of last year's sublime Palace Brothers makes way for a small band and a Steve Albini production, but the archaic speech patterns of the American South have still never found a sweeter echo in song. Oldham's lyrics - "Is there time still, time to forage for a decent dinner here?" - are a disarming blend of humour and solemnity. In his voice, discord and harmony live together as brother and sister. The resulting cracked- actor-minstrel style takes a bit of getting used to, but for the ever- increasing numbers of those who have managed it, this man currently seems incapable of making a record that would be a disappointment. BT

Julian Joseph: In Concert at the Wigmore Hall (Eastwest, CD). This year's Proms jazz-star in a live recording from his ground-breaking Wigmore series of last October. The music, with assists from Eddie Daniels, Johnny Griffin and Jason Rebello, is sharp, bluesy, and not at all overawed by the setting. Phil Johnson

Gregory Isaacs: Private Lesson (Acid Jazz, CD/LP). The Cool Ruler - reggae's greatest ever amorous crooner - returns to old-school form with this emphatically non- digital album, recorded with a British band in a suitably Kingstonian down-home and funky Soho basement studio. PJ

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