This week's CD review roundup

Beyoncé | Tom Jones | Dido | The Fireman | Julie Fowlis & Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh | Houston Person

I Am… Sasha Fierce ( RCA) £12.99

Sasha Fierce is the nom de guerre that allows a God-fearing Texan wallflower, Beyoncé Knowles, to turn Amazonian. Fierce lends her name to the second of two CDs of this lopsided double album. Unlike Mariah Carey's Mimi alter ego, Fierce is nocturnal, digital and lubricious, fond of stark electro like 'Diva'. The 'real' Be, by contrast, is a wet blanket. Thankfully she's confined to the I Am… CD whose wall-to-wall ballads are almost entirely superfluous. One talking point is 'If I Were a Boy', in which Be fantasises about rolling out of bed and wearing what she pleases. Imagine! KE

Tom Jones
24 Hours (Parlophone) £12.99

After Jones's dire attempt to move with the times on his last solo album, 2002's hip-hop influenced Mr Jones, the retro direction of 24 Hours at least counts as a relief. Teaming up with rising production stars Future Cut and taking on co-writing duties for the first time in decades, the Welsh crooner proves himself a fl uid enough lyricist, dismantling his ladies man persona via wistful musings on marriage, mortality and regret. But musically the mixture of cosy lounge pop and lumpen soul balladry betrays a distinct lack of imagination as, once again, does that one-size-fi ts-all bellow. HM

Safe Trip Home (RCA) £12.99

It's nine years since she released her multimillion-selling debut and eight since she interrupted an Eminem rap to sing about tea, so it's hard to believe this is only Dido's third album. Most of these uncomplicated pop songs are inspired by her father's death two years ago and co-written with her brother, Faithless's Rollo, but it's über-producer and soundtrack composer Jon Brion (Evan Dando, Kanye West, Elliott Smith) to whom Dido should say thank you this time. His inspired arrangements and orchestration deliver some satisfying hooks, although no amount of strings can hide the samey melodies and sparseness of Dido's tone. KT

The Fireman
Electric Arguments (MPL/One Little Indian) £13.99

When they debuted in 1993, ambient dance act the Fireman hid their identities. No mystery remains. Their third album is the first to feature vocals from Paul McCartney (one half of the double act, alongside producer, Youth), and the development is not a successful one. If they felt relevant in the Nineties, the Fireman sound dated now – and unfocused. The blockish blues-rock of the opener gives way to twee jazz-folk ('Two Magpies') and airy stadium fodder ('Sing the Changes') in the first 10 minutes. There are a few moments of inspiration, but on this one the duo would have been better off incognito. KF

Julie Fowlis & Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh
Dual (Machair) £13.99

The dual of the title means not rivalry but, in Gaelic, to braid together – a perfect description of this meeting of two bright young voices. Fowlis, the BBC's folk singer of the year, is from the Hebrides, Nic Amhlaoibh from Kerry. Between them they re-forge the links between Gaelic Scotland and Ireland, singing counterpoint and harmony, exploring a heritage of ballads, laments and love songs . What in other hands might be a dry exercise proves wonderfully animated, with exquisite playing from Eamon Doorley (fiddle and bouzouki) and Ross Martin on guitar. A lovely, intricate piece of Celtic tradition. NS

Houston Person
The Art & Soul of Houston Person (High Note) £19.99

'He plays with great feeling and he's open to any kind of harmonic suggestion. A lot of horn players aren't like that.' So says the great bassist Ron Carter , long-time admirer of the deep, unpretentious eloquence of tenor saxophonist Houston Person. This three-CD collection, drawn from his albums of the past few years , with a few new pieces , proves there is plenty of jazz life left in the standard song repertoire if it is approached with understanding. His warm, burly tone and generous turn of phrase reveal new depths in 30 melodies by Cole Porter, Jerome Kern et al. The list of accompanists is a veritable Who's Who. DG


Kitty Empire, Hugh Montgomery, Katie Toms, Killian Fox, Neil Spencer amd Dave Gelly

The GuardianTramp

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