Arts and Entertainment Will.i.am onstage at the Capital FM Summertime Ball at Wembley in London.

Will.i.am, Ed Sheeran and Mumford & Sons are among the stars who have recorded new versions of celebrated protest songs to highlight issues of global poverty.

The best music of 2012: Jazz

Forty years in the making, four CDs and 260 minutes long, Mississippi-born trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith's Ten Freedom Summers proved hard to beat for strength and depth.

Swing kings: the Brad Mehldau Trio have stood the test of time

IoS jazz review: Brad Mehidau Trio, Barbican Hall, London

Generous, creative – and still groovy after all these years

David Gray's plan to convert Dylan's studio falls flat

Singer David Gray has fallen out with his neighbours over his plans to convert famed north London recording studios into flats.

Caught in the Net: Something to get your claws into

Last week, Grizzly Bear unveiled the second single from their new 10-track album, Shields, due on 18 September – coming a little more than three years after their much-loved third album, Veckatimest.

Album: Eugene McGuinness, The Invitation to the Voyage (Domino)

The third album by London-Irish singer McGuinness, most visible until lately as a member of Miles Kane's backing band, packs a sly wit and a melodic punch which, at its best, recalls early Squeeze and Talking Heads circa Remain in Light.

Cultural Life: A. L. Kennedy, novelist

Books I've just finished Russell Banks's Lost Memory Of Skin, which has its flaws, but the man can really write and he's passionate about social justice in America. He chose his country's most marginalised group [sex offenders] as his focus and continued with courage, for which he has my thanks. I've also been reading Daniel Simpson's A Rough Guide to the Dark Side – it's all about why he left The New York Times and the jaw-dropping realities of modern journalism. Great, funny, passionate stuff.

Cultural Life: A. L. Kennedy, novelist

Books: I've just finished Russell Banks's Lost Memory Of Skin, which has its flaws, but the man can really write and he's passionate about social justice in America. He chose his country's most marginalised group [sex offenders] as his focus and continued with courage, for which he has my thanks. I've also been reading Daniel Simpson's A Rough Guide to the Dark Side – it's all about why he left The New York Times and the jaw-dropping realities of modern journalism. Great, funny, passionate stuff.

Jackie Leven, Scottish songwriter and folk musician

Jackie Leven

Further to your obituary of Jackie Leven (17 November), when I was writing a book about the British on holiday, and wanted to include a chapter on cruising, a mutual friend put me in touch with the singer-songwriter, who in his droll Scottish manner told me about his experience as the "entertainment" on a two-week cruise of the Norwegian fjords in 2002.

Album: Captain Wilberforce, Ghost Written Confessions (Blue Tuxedo)

There's a heavy Elvis Costello influence behind the songs of Simon Bristoll, singer/songwriter with Leeds combo Captain Wilberforce.

The Secret Sisters, Bush Hall, London

Laughing and joking with the crowd, at ease on stage, you'd never guess that less than two years ago Laura and Lydia Rogers had never been on a plane, let alone performed in front of a live audience. The sibling duo, who hail from the perfectly Bible-Belt-sounding Muscle Shoals, Alabama, formed The Secret Sisters after elder sister Laura (who handles lead vocals) was spotted at an impromptu Nashville audition. Los Angeles beckoned and their self-titled debut album of sweet harmonies and country charm (recorded, in faux-1950s fashioned, without any digital equipment) was born.

Album: Eliza Carthy, Neptune (Hem-Hem)

She's on the cover, smirking in front of an old map: a naughty sea god(dess) in a Cruikshank cartoon. Which somehow suits the discursive post-folk rompery of the music: highly arranged, wordy as an Elvis Costello song with larks taking the place of bitterness.

Album: Lucinda Williams, Blessed (Lost Highway)

Americana's most ripped and bleeding soul gets down with a Don Was co-production, which means presence and rough warmth in the ear.

Album: Larkin Poe, Summer (Edvins Records)

Close-harmonising sisters, mandolins, lapsteels and, when the songwriting hits the spot, country-pop which – were it given that "polished" production that kills most music of this kind – would sell squillions in those parts of America tourists rarely tread.

Album: Elvis Costello, National Ransom (Hear Music)

From Plant to John to Costello – what is it about singers of a certain age that makes them turn to T Bone Burnett (who, if he spreads himself any thinner, will have to change his name to Minute Steak)?

Album: Lucas Renney, Strange Glory (Brille)

When pop's fickle finger briefly pointed towards Sunderland about five years ago, Renney's band the Golden Virgins were swiftly signed up alongside the Futureheads and Field Music.

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