Hall to play for

LYNDEN DAVID HALL BRIGHTON CENTRE

First Night: British soul ace improves on a sparkling start

Lynden David Hall Brighton Centre

Theatre: Last Call

IRISH FOLK BAND The Cranberries (right) are back with their long-awaited third album, Bury the Hatchet. Since the phenomenal success of their first two recordings, which sold over 13 million copies, the band have been taking it easy with lead singer Dolores O'Riordan finding time to become a mother. The new album will be followed by a gig, their first in three years since O'Riordan collapsed suffering from exhaustion. Refreshed and with new material, 1999 should see The Cranberries competing once more with the likes of Catatonia and The Manic Street Preachers.

Pop Ani difranco

Although still only 28, the diminutive and forthrightly feminist folk rocker, Ani DiFranco (right), who is further distinguished by her amount of body ink and piercings, is on her twelfth album. She plays two UK shows in support of her current live CD, Up Up Up Up Up Up (Cooking Vinyl), which follows hard on the heels of her acclaimed Little Plastic Castle from last year. In recent years, she's become more musically adventurous, adding jazz and go-go influences to her largely acoustic sound. A regular feature on the covers of US music magazines, she's sure to attract a huge crowd of North Americans along with her growing UK fanbase to these shows.

Pop: Barenaked Ladies

The Barenaked Ladies (in reality five fully clad Canadian blokes, right) have enjoyed a steady following over here throughout the Nineties but with Stunt, their impressive fourth studio album (released here on 22 Feb), they look set to follow-up their major North-American success. That long-player spent four months in the US Top 10 and the standout track, the hip-hoppy "One Week", topped the singles chart. Their cheeky power pop laced with folk, country and other influences, lends itself well to the live setting and these two London dates precede a support slot on the sell-out Beautiful South tour in April, by which time they should be much better known.

Pop: Five Americans that rock

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Pop: Lucinda Williams

With this year's Car Wheels On a Gravel Road, Lucinda Williams has, 20 years into her career, come up with an album to make the transition from musician's musician and acclaimed songwriter (Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty and Mary Chapin Carpenter are among those to cover her songs) to a somewhat reluctant star in her own right. With a voice that seems to have been fed on bourbon, nicotine and honey, her wistful brand of roots rock comes over even better live and this sole UK appearance ranks as one of the gigs of the year for those with any interest in country and rock. There's also a good support act in noted Nashville-based songwriter Jim Lauderdale.

Pop: The wild man of marriage counselling

EAGLE-EYE CHERRY SHEPHERD'S BUSH EMPIRE

Pop: asian dub foundation

Many thought that Asian Dub Foundation (right) were unlucky not to scoop the Technics Mercury Music Prize after having made the shortlist with their Rafi's Revenge album, an exhilaratingly angry fusion of breakbeats, punk, rap and traditional Asian vibes. Onstage, ADF's political consciousness is even more of a full-on proposition, as they add extra decibels and energy to already charged-up numbers like "Naxalite" and "Free Satpal Ram". Jazz- sampling, funky New York lo-fi rockers Soul Coughing are an inspired if not an obvious choice for a support band.

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BELLE & SEBASTIAN

Pop review

TO COINCIDE with the release of their fine The Boy With The Arab Strap album, Scottish octet Belle & Sebastian (right) get out of their houses to play a handful of dates. It's always been a debating point whether or not they can translate their delicate pop sounds onto the stage, but there's should be some skin-prickling moments. If not, then the support act, Elliot Smith, is a banker for a solid performance. After a few club gigs and an appearance at Reading 98, it won't be too long until this Oregon singer is headlining this joint himself.

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