Tom Waits

Album: The Unthanks, Last (Rabble Rouser)

As stately and sombre as songs (mostly Trad, from the North-east of England) should probably be treated these days, the fourth album from the award-winning strings-and-sisters folksters is a thing of shivery and spooky charms.

Solomon Burke, Jazz Café, London

Quite how Solomon Burke's 12-piece band fits onto the Jazz Café's tiny stage is a miracle, rather like one of those 3D wooden jigsaw puzzles, with the guitarist way out right beside a post, the drummer lurking behind the three-man horn section, and the bassist hidden behind the backing singers. Things aren't made any easier by the massive gilt and red velvet throne centre stage, from which the King of Rock and Soul proclaims his gospel of love.

Album: Tom Waits, Glitter & Doom Live, (Anti-)

In his earlier years, all Tom Waits needed to animate a live show was a piano and a standard lamp, the latter casting a suitably sepulchral gloom over his rough-hewn crooning. In those days, he was most renowned as a lyricist who had helped reconnect a sagging singer-songwriter tradition with its beat-poetry roots, so the accompaniment was kept sparse enough not to get in the way of the words.

Album: John Hammond, Rough and Tough, (Chesky)

An umptysquillionth album by the son of the man who discovered Bob Dylan, a veteran bluesman with all the payable dues duly signed and docketed except for the unfixable fact of his whiteness.

Album: Lo'Jo, Cosmophono, (Irl)

Lo'Jo's Denis Pean (a French cross between Tom Waits and Ivor Cutler) almost talks his way through these fractured trip-hoppish chansons, accompanied on all kinds of instruments (violin, kora, thumb piano, wheezy old organ) by the eccentric collective he founded more than a quarter of a century ago.

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Album: Joan Baez, Day After Tomorrow (Proper)

No one does gravitas quite like JB. She does it without self-doubt. And if that great whipping silken flag of a soprano is rather diminished now (small mercies, you might say), Joan's sense of solemnity has not diminished one whit.

Album: Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, Ten Thousand (Balling the

Now touring the UK, the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir – neither a choir nor mountain men – are a Canadian quartet occupying similar roots-revivalist territory to American acts like The Boggs and Old Crow Medicine Show, attempting to disinter the dark country-blues spirit mined by the likes of Charley Patton, Robert Johnson and Son House.

Solomon Burke, Barbican, London

An empty, plus-size golden throne sits at the centre of the Barbican stage, surrounded by red roses and a black-clad band, including leggy violinists, a sprightly blind organist and a three-piece brass section. As they play "Amazing Grace", the lights dim and King Solomon Burke – as he likes to be known – is carried on-stage. Burke has never been a lightweight, but in recent years his obesity has confined him to a wheelchair. I assumed this might limit his performance. As the lights go up, I realise how wrong I was. There he is – all 30 stone of him – trussed up in a silver suit like a Christmas turkey, hollering like the preacher that he is, singing "Like a Fire" to the heavens.

Album: Eliza Carthy, Dreams of Breathing Underwater (Topic)

She's on the front in bright blue eye-shadow and lippy, lying down, her hair curling round her jaw like Rita Hayworth's. There's a clue. Not your regular folk album. It does with the elements of the English folk tradition what Tom Waits does with the elements of tradtional American music: screws them back together all wonky, as frames for wonky songs. In 'Dreams', Eliza sings about boys and that. They're odd but good songs, and the arrangements are occasionally thrillingly imaginative. She even has a lash on grunge tenor guitar. One of the albums of the year, you'll find.