Other pop: Tori Amos, The Beekeeper

Other pop: Kitty Empire on Tori Amos | The Kills | Amos Lee | M Ward | Laura Veirs | Various Artists

Tori Amos
The Beekeeper (Sony/BMG)

Value for money is never an issue with Tori Amos. Her eighth album squeezes 19 tracks on to one 80-minute CD - happy trails for fanatics but hard going for the dilettante, especially with the promise of a new Kate Bush album later this year. Somewhere in the voluminous folds of this album lurks a pretty good record, one that veers between styles and personae and makes good use of the vintage raunch of a Hammond organ. A number of the songs here are the most cogent Amos has produced in a decade. But there is considerable material to skirt along the way. Slightly newsworthy is 'The Power of Orange Knickers', a frilly duet with a barely-there Damien Rice; 'Marys of the Sea', meanwhile, sees Amos try her hand at Gaelic. Of the better tracks, 'Sweet is the Sting' is humid and louche and 'Witness' is a gospel-inflected, Hammond-drenched surprise. There are 'carnivorous vegetarians', petticoats, terrorists and poisons dotted around, emphasising Amos's broad thematic palette; you just wish she'd use it with more focus.

The Kills
No Wow (Domino)

Just how few elements on a record can still constitute music? The Kills are on a mission to find out. Their second album enjoins threadbare drum machines, Alison Kills's sullen vocals and Jamie Kills's hollowed-out guitar riffs to fill a record. They do, just about, although many have attempted this sort of minimalism before. The duo's debts to the Jesus and Mary Chain, early Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, Suicide, Giorgio Moroder ('The Good Ones') and Spacemen 3 (the insis tent title track) are obvious And, in their effort to strip songs back as far as they can go, the Kills often neglect to write tunes, preferring repetition and sucked-in cheeks to do the job of melody. But the oppressive atmospheres here are the point. And if this sort-of experiment leaves you cold, songs like 'Rodeo Town' add just enough lonesome country into The Kills's emaciated bones to rescue No Wow from encroaching monotony.

Amos Lee
Amos Lee (Blue Note)

He isn't quite the male Norah Jones, but new-kid-on-the-stool Amos Lee comes redolent of the cosy hush of her brand of songwriting. Lee toured with Jones in 2004 and Jones's partner, Lee Alexander, is the producer of the Philadelphian's debut. Coming from Philly, it's not surprising to hear soul creeping into Lee's simple songs, played largely on acoustic guitar, drums and backed with a few strings here and there. The most immediate tune here is 'Bottom of the Barrel', a funky folk ditty that briefly lifts the all-pervading air of toilet-trained melancholy wafting through this record. Fans of Ben Harper may feel a flicker of recognition; oddly, though, to British ears, Lee occasionally sounds like Jamiroquai's Jay Kay on downers.

M Ward
Transistor Radio (Matador)

Portland-based Matt Ward's latest album is divided into two 'sides'. It takes as its starting point the power of radio in the days before television, and its dusty rustles, scraps of pop and fireside reverberations are designed to be heard on some archaic, spitting receiver rather than a brand new iPod. But for all their wistful glances backwards to more sonically textured times, there is no disguising the loveliness of Ward's tunes. They skip confidently from elegiac guitar-picking - on 'You Still Believe in Me', the breezy opener - to the febrile tumble of tracks like 'Four Hours In Washington', which gives Nick Cave a run for his money. Ward's musical vocabulary is vast and, on paper, a little bewildering. But the 16 tracks on Transistor Radio whiz past in a sweet-natured blur of vintage pop, pedal-steel inflected Americana and his own idiosyncratic nods to musics past.

Laura Veirs
The Triumphs And Travails of Orphan Mae (Bella Union)

Laura Veirs made songs about geology sexy on her third album, last year's remarkable Carbon Glacier. The landslip of praise generated by that record has prompted her UK label to license Veirs's debut of 2001. Certain elements of her style are already in place on this slightly hokey concept album about the travels of a girl in the Old West, chiefly Veirs's uncluttered voice and her attention to atmospheric detail, especially on 'Blue Ink' and 'Through December'. But the crispness of her diction and the fluency of her playing can't quite compensate for the country cliches here - burning jailhouses, orphans, twanging guitar - that Veirs has, quite sensibly, long since abandoned.

Various Artists
Sunday Nights - The Songs of Junior Kimbrough (Fat Possum)

Junior Kimbrough was a Delta bluesman feted only by the cognoscenti until the tail end of his life, when a 1991 film, Deep Blues, revealed his insistent style to a wider audience. He died in 1998, so this tribute comes too late for his bank balance; the spoils certainly won't go far among his 36 children. But this excellent compilation does rally some able fans to his music. Most importantly, a reformed Iggy and the Stooges let rip on the opener, 'You Better Run', sounding in far ruder health than they deserve to. This is their first released track back together. Problematically, it's sung from the viewpoint of a rapist. It's worth getting past this prickly start, though, because Spiritualized sound uncommonly energised on 'Sad Days Lonely Nights'. Few artists further down the tracklisting let the side down, but honourable mentions go to Mark Lanegan for 'All Night Long' and relative unknowns the Heartless Bastards. One thing, though - did no one think to ask Jack White or Polly Harvey?

· To order Tori Amos or Laura Veirs for £13.99, the Kills for £11.99, Amos Lee or M Ward for £10.99 or Sunday Nights for £12.99, all with free UK p&p, call the Observer Music Service on 0870 836 0713


Kitty Empire

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