by Matthew Freemantle, Arthur Christopher and Robert McKay
Simphiwe Dana - Zandisile
There are singers who can break your heart and there are those who can't. And then there's Simphiwe Dana, the new queen of jazz, whose voice is so staggeringly beautiful that it can probably do much more than that. On Zandisile, her best album yet, it is the lazy, smooth jazz songs where she is most breathtaking; the liquid movement of such songs provide the perfect atmosphere for her deep, rich voice. Dana was recognised slowly, but in the past few months she has secured her success, winning four SAMA awards this year. The international press is beginning to take notice too, with some critics calling her the best Afro-soul vocalist to emerge from South Africa since Miriam Makeba.
Dirty Skirts - On a Stellar Bender
It is immediately suspicious when a Cape Town-based band creates a sound that is so uncannily similar to the messy new alternative rock currently all over UK radio. Frustratingly, it sounds as though the Dirty Skirts have spent months listening to Bloc Party, the Arctic Monkeys, Editors, Kaiser Chiefs, Doves and everything else new and British, pulled the headphones off, walked into the studio and tried their best to make something similar. But to write their debut effort off as mere imitation would be to begrudge them their due respect. There are moments on their long overdue debut album, most notably on 'Homewrecker', 'Daddy's Stopped Breathing' and 'Spirit is the New Black' that deliver enough raw energy, pace and originality to justify what is elsewhere an album riddled with lazy rehash and pretentious excess.
Diana Ross & The Supremes - The No. 1's
The onslaught of chubby American contestants belting out cover versions of old girl group songs has done wonders for Diana Ross and her Supremes. Instead of the poor, quavering and usually bad renditions delivered on the Idols stage, there is, these days, an appetite for the real thing. The success of the musical 'Dreamgirls' earlier this year was another reason for record company executives to dig in the archives and put together 'Diana Ross & the Supremes: The No.1s'. Spanning Ross's career with and without the Supremes, the album includes 'Baby Love' 'You Can't Hurry Love', 'Reflections' and 'Someday We'll Be Together'. Ross as the solo artist is remembered with such hits as 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough', 'Touch Me in the Morning' and 'Upside Down'. It's the definitive album for Ross fans, and a thorough compilation for those who want to get to know her music.
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
If ever a band was afflicted with the intense pressure of The Difficult Second Album, it is Canadian band The Arcade Fire. Their debut effort, Funeral, was so glowingly received that it seemed impossible that their sophomore would invite similar adulation. With Neon Bible, the band has matched its previous highs and, in places, invented an even more powerful and refined epic beauty. Opening track 'Black Mirror' is like an analogy for the rest of the album; a slow starter that builds darkness, fear and tension into a hysterical yet gloriously observed nervous breakdown. There are suggestions of influence here and there, most notably with the Springsteen-esque 'Antichrist Television Blues', but for the most part Neon Bible it utterly their own; a driving, melodious, relevant album that should be heard more or less immediately.