Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue (Elektra) The labour of love for Bragg (below) and Wilco was to put music to the 50-year-old lyrics of folk dynamo Woody Guthrie, and, mostly, the man's timeless tales are handled with highly intuitive care and consciousness. On occasion, Bragg's personality feels inappropriate ("Ingrid Bergman"), and there's not enough of Natalie Merchant, who really evokes the aching poignancy of Guthrie on "Birds and Ships". HHH

Jann Arden: Happy (A&M) With a sleepy pace, patter of drums and laidback synths, Ms Arden singularly fails to roar off the starting blocks, so she is obviously not worried about the female singer/songwriter territory being somewhat overcrowded at present. And why should she when her fretful warble delivers up tales of love lost with such a distinctive freshness ("Leave Me Now")? Very reflective, but gracious - rewarding stuff for patient ears. HHH

The Amazing Royal Crowns: the Amazing Royal Crowns (Velvel) What the Mighty Mighty Bosstones do for ska, the Crowns do for rockabilly - take old-style music and punk it up. Complete with suitable monikers like King Kendall, they spank the double-bass hard, and lay on a frenetic 1950s twang for songs like "Do the Devil". As with the Bosstones, Britain did this ages ago (a debt is owed to London's 1980s psychobilly), but it's no less addictive. HHH

Queen Latifah: Order in the Court (Motown) Queen Latifah may have lost her title as the big boss woman of rap to Missy Misdemeanor Elliot, but she was the first female rapper to score a gold album, and here she still boxes with prize-fighter spirit ("Black on Black Love") and glows with intimate tenderness ("No/Yes"). The original sassy sista of hip-hop. HHH

Angela Lewis

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