CD Reviews

> Elvis Costello. National Ransom. Universal.

4 stars (out of 5)

A combination of a songwriter on top of his art, the production nous of T Bone Burnett and an eminent guest list (including Leon Russell, Marc Ribot and Buddy Miller) ensures British troubadour Elvis Costello's latest album has enough twists, turns and flourishes to prompt many return visits.

Across 16 tracks, Costello delves into bump-and-grind vaudeville swing, dark country, jazz-tinged ballads and places in between, telling tales that range from an unfortunate cowboy singer stranded in the music halls of late '30s northern England (Jimmie Standing in the Rain) to an assassin filled with regret (Bullets for the New-Born King).

Single download: One Bell Ringing
For those who like: Loudon Wainwright III, Warren Zevon

- Shane Gilchrist

> Taylor Swift. Speak Now. Big Machine Records/Universal.
3 stars (out of 5)

Officially, Speak Now is Taylor Swift's third studio album, though it could be argued it is her first fully original effort, given the songwriting credits are all hers, as opposed to the collaborations of 2006 self-titled debut and 2008 follow-up Fearless.

Country fans beware: with the notable exception of Dobro-driven highlight Mean, jukebox rocker Better Than Revenge and the delicate Innocent, Swift's pen and ear are tuned almost wholly to pop on this effort, from the big ballads to more intimate moments, such as Never Grow Up.

Single download: Take your pick ...
For those who like: Shania Twain

- Shane Gilchrist

> Bob McNeill. Me and Mary Ann. Independent.
3 stars (out of 5)

A three-time Tui award-winner (all for best folk album), Scottish-born Kiwi Bob McNeill seamlessly melds Celtic and American influences in his fourth solo album, a retrospective featuring new material as well as slick versions of some of his better-known tracks.

Though the 10 songs for Me and Mary Ann were written while he was on the road touring, McNeill's lyricism focuses on deep connections (themes of love and land abound) rather than observational snapshots.

To cap off a solid effort from a songwriter with a proven track record, taut and tasteful playing by session guests lends some unexpected textures.

Single download: Shine
For those who like: James Taylor, Luka Bloom

- Shane Gilchrist

> The Sword. Warp Riders. Shock.
4 stars (out of 5)

Kicking off Warp Riders with a nitrous-fuelled instrumental metal boogie, the Sword boys display their Southern roots proudly throughout this concept album.

There might be an obscure sci-fi narrative in there somewhere, but who cares when you've got such a slamming mash-up of classic hard rock slaying your speakers.

Benching any doom evident in their previous two albums, The Sword have such a catchy knack for stoner metal that Warp Riders could quite possibly do for metal in 2010 what Mastodon did in 2009. However, they shouldn't be surprised if Black Sabbath call and ask for their riffs back.

Single Download: Night City
For those who like: Black Sabbath, Fu Manchu, Clutch, Iron Maiden

- Mark Orton

> Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. Self-titled. Cooking Vinyl.
2 stars (out of 5)

This third album from London-based artist Sam (Get Cape) Duckworth fails to deliver the dynamism implied in its title, falling awkwardly somewhere in the space between breezy summertime pop, plaintive acoustic folk, world music and hip-hop.

Duckworth tackles a handful of quasi-political themes earnestly enough and with a healthy dose of optimism, but his message is confused in the genre-hopping, suggesting he has yet to find his own sound.

And while the addition of Baaba Maal's vocal lines in All Of This Is Yours lend the track gravitas, Duckworth might now regret posing his own lighter pipes against them.

Single download: Collapsing Cities
For those who like: Billy Bragg, Kings Of Convenience

- Jeff Harford

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