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Britten: Albert Herring. Christopher Gillet, Josephine Barstow, Felicity Palmer, etc. Northern Sinfonia/Steuart Bedford (Collins Classics 70422, CD). The most parochially English of the Britten operas, with a cast of characters whose ancestors could have auditioned for Peter Grimes, Albert Herring has always been a showcase for a particular kind of British singer: not necessarily the superstars who play Strauss in Salzburg or Mozart at the Met, but the ones whose intelligence and musicianship earn them a loyal following and high profile wherever such things are appreciated. And that's what you find here, in performances which are beautifully characterised and well-sung. Steuart Bedford conducted a Herring last year at Garsington with some questionable voices, but here the personnel are upgraded and encompass real delights - especially Gerald Finley's aimiable bounder Sid and Susan Gritton's young but destined-for-spinsterdom Miss Wordsworth. Christopher Gillet's Albert has a nice line in inadequacy; and only Josephine Barstow's Lady Billows comes in under-valued. You miss the barn-storming bluster of Fisher on the old Britten recording. Britten's own versions are the inevitable benchmark comparison whenever new issues of the operas appear, but I've always found his 1964 Herring one of the less essential items in the canon. There's room for another; and this one, from the hand of as authoritative and insightful a Britten conductor as we have, does the job superbly. Michael White


My Life Story: The Golden Mile (Parlophone, CD/LP/tape). Jake Shillingford fancies himself as a lame-suited, kiss-curled king of pop, but My Life Story are still more likely to be mistaken for the Mike Flowers Pops having a bash at Gene. The band, including string and brass sections, suffers from thin, sub-Sergeant Pepper orchestration, while Shillingford's tortured tones corroborate his admission on the potential smash, "April 1st", that he is "a singer who can't". So, not up there with The Divine Comedy just yet, but gleaming Britpop melodies and lyrics chock-full of wordplay make The Golden Mile a record well worth hearing, and make Shillingford a talent well worth watching. Remember, it took Jarvis Cocker a few albums to achieve greatness. Nicholas Barber

Ben Folds Five: Whatever and Ever Amen (Sony, CD/tape). The second album by this perversely named North Carolina trio confirms the promise of last year's eponymous debut. Piano/ mainstay Ben Folds combines a God-given flair for a post-punk showtune with an arrestingly caustic lyrical sensibility ("I've got your old ID and you're all dressed up like the Cure" is a typical waspish one-liner, though "Give me my money back, you bitch" on "Song For the Dumped" probably takes the cake). And if this new record shows little sign of moving away from the basic piano, bass, and drums format established by its illustrious predecessor, well, in the immortal words of Elton John's hairdresser: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Ben Thompson


Various Artists: Jazz the World Forgot, Vols 1 & 2 (Yazoo, CD). In the month of the 80th anniversary of jazz on record, these collections of largely unremarked Twenties' performances by such bands as Paul Howard's Quality Serenaders and Louis Dumaine's Jazzola Eight (along with occasional names like Jelly Roll Morton, Marnie Smith and Benny Moten), help to focus attention on the dance-music context of early jazz, the rave or jungle of its day. The energy and rhythmic drive are irrepressible, and the spirited ensemble playing as satisfying as the art of the soloist which was to develop in the following years.