These Are Some Serious Times
(Ghetto Arc/XL) £11.99
Like gangsta rap, much contemporary reggae reflects the endemic gang violence in Kingston. But these 'serious times' - the title comes from Gyptian's mournful track - have also given rise to more reflective strands; reggae's social conscience is alive and kicking. This diverse compilation rounds up songs about ganja ('Rollin'), salvation (Turbulence's excellent 'Notorious', which currently introduces Radiohead gigs), the search for love (Nanko's 'Lucky') and positivity (Sizzla's 'Ain't Gonna Fall'). It gets a little treacly in places, but the dancehall is a better place for these efforts.
Not Too Late
(Blue Note ) £13.99
Yes it sounds like an Ally McBeal soundtrack, but stop tittering, pour yourself a glass of wine and listen. Crooning over the strings, mute trombone and piano tinkle, Norah's got something to say. This is the first album written almost entirely by Jones, with lover and bassist Lee Alexander lending a hand, and the pair are in a serious mood. A bitter love triangle, social unease and the 'deranged' George W Bush all get a look-in, alongside more romantic fare. If you've no appetite for protest songs, 'Thinking About You' is the perfect evocation of the Grammy-winning Come Away With Me.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Some Loud Thunder
If you were willing to listen long enough to acquire a taste for singer Alec Ounsworth's mannered yowl, the art rock of CYHSY's eponymous debut had plenty to recommend it. Here, the band broaden their sound, bringing in producer Dave Fridmann on psychedelic duties. When it works, it swoons nicely, with snippets of Beatlesish pop poking through the instrumental clutter. But there's also a tendency to meander and overload slight ideas. Committed fans will swear that oddball studies like 'Satan Said Dance' are proof of genius, but the album's better songs prove that less posturing is more.
(Mercury Records) £11.99
On the Streets' 2002 debut, Mike Skinner showcased a remarkable ability to elevate everyday observations about modern Britain to poignant significance. In hijacking the Birmingham MC's style, 24-year-old Camden native Jack Allsop has succeeded in exactly the opposite regard: dumbing the euphoric down to the moronic ('I'm happier than whores with chivalrous clientele') through a barrage of inane trance-disco. By copying the Streets so closely, Just Jack only proves himself to be the musical equivalent of knock-off designer wear - a thin and tacky replica of a quality original.
Aman Iman: Water Is Life
The Tuareg group have come a long way since their formation in the refugee camps of the Sahara a decade ago, to become established favourites on the world music festival circuit (even Thom Yorke namechecks them). This third album is by some distance the best showcase of their desert blues, thanks, in part, to the sonic clarity of producer Justin Adams. The group have also expanded their repertoire; alongside the intricate, driving guitar numbers, propelled by handclaps and laced with ululations, are slower pieces like '63', where the solitude of nomadic desert life presses eerily in.
Hank Jones, Christian McBride, Jimmy Cobb
West of 5th
Fluent, elegant, concise - Hank Jones has been held up as a model to jazz pianists for decades. Incredibly, at 88, this paragon is still at the top of his game. His light but firm touch and sculptured phrasing make perfection seem effortless. At 34, bassist Christian McBride is young enough to be Hank's grandson, but their playing matches beautifully, as does that of Jimmy Cobb, drummer on the 1959 Miles Davis classic Kind of Blue and now a comfortable 77. One of the great things about jazz is that these three can play together with complete empathy and produce such satisfying, timeless music.