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Lyle Lovett: The Road to Ensenada (MCA CD/tape). Musician, actor, ex-Mr Julia Roberts, Easter Island sculpture look-alike, Lyle Lovett wears many hats, and on this album, he dons his ten-galloner. The Road to Ensenada is much more of a country record than 1994's I Love Everybody, but there's more to it than Texan talk and steel guitars. Which other country artist would put doo-wop backing vocals, Glenn Miller brass, jazz piano and hoe-down fiddle, all on the same song? And which other songwriter is so utterly intriguing? Like Randy Newman, who adds some cameo vocals, Lovett strides along the irony borderline. With a voice as expressive as it is inscrutable, and lyrics as resonant as they are arch, he never admits whether, behind "a smile all sweet with pain", he is laughing or crying inside. Nicholas Barber

Beck: Odelay (Geffen, CD/ tape). When the lolloping "Loser" sloped onto MTV in 1994, Beck was tagged as the voice of enervated, Generation X apathy. Wrong. It's his wilfully dumb, sub-punk contemporaries who are the slackers. Young Mr Beck Hansen is always busy, plundering and soldering, customising and building, fitting together a unique ramshackle sound. Starting with a sleepy rap and a rough and bluesy slide guitar, he throws in every sample he can find, one on top of the other. Odelay doesn't change the recipe of his breakthrough album Mellow Gold, it just improves it. This is a rich bubbling stew, with more than a taste of Black Grape and G Love and Special Sauce. A winner. NB

Banda Black Rio: The Best of Banda Black Rio (Universal Sound, CD only). What better soundtrack could there be for hot city streets full of scruffy urchins practising their close control with footballs made of tightly packed cloth than this superb soul/samba crossover monument? Emerging from the ultra-populous weekend dances of Rio De Janeiro's Zona Norte in response to the massive musical and political impact of James Brown, the Black Rio movement gave the US Black Power paraphernalia of big hair and even bigger heels a distinct Latin twist. Banda Black Rio - formed in 1976-77 by the saxophonist Oberdan Magalhaes, who died in a car crash eight years later - were one of numerous virtuoso ensembles endeavouring to fuse traditional samba styles with the taut rhythms of funk and the merciless musicality of jazz. From the pronouced Earth Wind & Fire vibration of "Miss Cheryl" to the sinuous Test Card-type stylings of "Cravo e Canela", all the evidence here suggests they succeeded. Ben Thompson

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