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VAR­I­OUS ARTISTS Tom Waits’ Juke­box Chrome Dreams

★★★★ This is an en­ter­pris­ing and in­ter­est­ing col­lec­tion that rather lib­er­ally at­tachs it­self to Mr Waits. He has had no hand, act or part in it – it’s his juke­box in the com­piler’s dreams. None­the­less, the 25 tracks here, from Big Mama Thorn­ton’s las­civ­i­ous Hound Dog to Lead Belly’s stomp­ing Black Betty, cover the sort of pre-rock ter­ri­tory that Waits stalks with graphic rel­ish. There’s the hard­core Texan blues of Light­nin Hop­kins and Blind Wil­lie John­son (a riv­et­ting ver­sion of his own No­body’s Fault But Mine); the wee wee hours bal­lads of Frank Si­na­tra and Nat King Cole; the cool jazz of Th­elo­nious Monk, Miles Davis and Char­lie Parker; the beat po­etry of Ker­ouac, Gins­berg and Bukowski; the odd­ball mu­si­cal threatre of Harry Partch and Lord Buck­ley; and Johnny Cash’s som­bre read­ing of Good­night Irene. The sound is a lit­tle vari­able, but the spirit is pow­er­ful and the de­tailed sleeve notes a no­table bonus. www.chromedreams.co.uk

GWEN STE­FANI The Sweet Es­cape In­ter­scope

★★★ The album ti­tle could re­fer to Ste­fani’s ven­ture into solo ca­reer ter­ri­tory (her sec­ond fol­low­ing last year’s Love.An­gel.Mu­sic. Baby). Or it could just be a tired new mother want­ing to get a few hours’ kip in the stu­dio. Ei­ther way, The Sweet Es­cape is a mi­nor gem from one of the bet­ter fe­male pop stars of the past decade. No Doubt, the su­per­star ska/rock band that could never re­ally con­tain Ste­fani (even when they were nonen­ti­ties), seem a dis­tant me­mory in the face of such good ma­te­rial. She clearly knows a thing or two about qual­ity, and with a mere few false starts on a 14-track album, it’s an approach that bodes well for fur­ther solo al­bums. Canny co-writes (Phar­rel Wil­liams, No Doubt’s Tony Kanal, Linda Perry and, most suc­cess­fully, Keane’s Tim Rice-Ox­ley), rockin’ tunes (Orange County Girl, Yummy), spe­cial guests (Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore, Richard Haw­ley) and strange but fine hy­brids (Wind It Up mixes beats, bleeps and The Lonely Goatherd from The Sound of Mu­sic!) equal hit record. Again. www.gwenste­fani.com

BLACK­MORE’S NIGHT Win­ter Carols AVM Records

Odds bod­kins and an eggnog-fu­elled hey-nonny-no to you, mate! For­mer Deep Pur­ple and Rain­bow gui­tarist Richie Black­more has been en­am­oured of Ye Olde Me­di­ae­val Rocke Mu­sicke for quite some time now; he and his wife, the fair lady Candice, have reaped the re­wards in Ja­pan and Ger­many, where they are treated like rock roy­alty. Win­ter Carols is more of the same leather boots and breeches rock/folk, how­ever; all your sea­sonal favourites are here ( Hark the Her­ald An­gels Sing, Ding Dong Mer­rily On High, Good King Wences­las, We Wish You a Merry Christ­mas) and all are en­veloped in Black­more’s cus­tom­ar­ily skil­ful and all-too-taste­ful gui­tar licks. Ideal for su­per­an­nu­ated Deep Pur­ple fans in need of a restora­tive pick-me-up come St Stephen’s Day. For ev­ery­one else, this is bound to in­duce ex­cess lev­els of PMT (pre-min­strel ten­sion). www.black­mores­night.com

SHINY TOY GUNS We Are Pi­lots Mer­cury


★★★ Like many a cur­rent LA band, Shiny Toy Guns are in thrall to poppy English elec­tro from the 1980s and 1990s, any­thing from early Yazoo and Flock of Seag­ulls to lat­ter­day St Eti­enne and Garbage, by the sound of this melodic fu­sion of synths, gui­tars and boy-girl vo­cals. Led by the multi-task­ing duo of Jeremy Daw­son and Chad Pe­tree, STG are out to prove that gui­tars and synths needn’t be mu­tu­ally exclusive. To this end they suc­ceed, largely be­cause they don’t get too caught up in louche synth-pop pos­ing but con­cen­trate on that vi­tal third el­e­ment: the tune. Their ro­bust popism, though self-con­sciously deriva­tive, helps such songs as Starts with One, Wait­ing, Rainy Mon­day and Rock­et­ship soar above the ro­botic drone of many of their peers. Singer Carah Faye was re­cently the sub­ject of a scur­rilous in­ter­net ru­mour that she had “ghost-sung” Paris Hil­ton’s album, but the vo­cals on Le Disko, Don’t Cry Out and Jackie Will Save Me are eas­ily in a dif­fer­ent class. www.shiny­toy­guns.com

JOSEF K En­to­mol­ogy Domino

In the post-punk dawn of the 1980s, this stark, stripped­down Scot­tish band, named af­ter a Kafka char­ac­ter and in­flu­enced by Talk­ing Heads, Television and Pere Ubu, were be­ing hailed as the Sound of Young Scot­land along with their Post­card la­bel­mates Orange Juice. Ed­wyn Collins’s lot would en­joy mod­er­ate pop suc­cess, but Josef K singer Paul Haig’s res­o­lutely anti-com­mer­cial stance and al­most pho­bic fear of cliche kept his band lurk­ing in the shad­ows, their only hope of any ex­po­sure rest­ing with the likes of John Peel and the NME. They re­leased two fine sin­gles on Post­card (the brassy Chance Meet­ing and the gen­tly rip­pling It’s Kinda Funny), and their de­but album, Sorry for Laugh­ing, be­came one of the great lost

records. Six songs from the album demon­strate JK’s mar­vel­lously purist approach to agit-dan­ce­pop, while their fi­nal record­ings – three songs for a Peel ses­sion, in­clud­ing an un­likely cover of Alice Cooper’s Ap­ple­bush – sees them march­ing de­fi­antly into ob­scu­rity.

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