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Alison Krauss and Union Station So Long So Wrong

However musically open-minded we try to be, most of us have a few blind spots, uncool though it is to admit it. Mournful singers recounting their woes in a Tennessee twang over a tapestry of banjos, fiddles and mandolins never did anything much for my musical G-spot - until a friend virtually strapped me down and insisted I listen to at least one song by a young Nashville singer-instrumentalist named Alison Krauss. He babbled something about her having "reinvented bluegrass for the '90s" and scooping a Grammy for Best New Country Artist at the age of 23. (She's just scooped another for Best Country Artist.)

Initially it was Krauss's voice that gripped my attention: a hauntingly pure, lyrical sound so closely enmeshed with the instrumentation that the hairs on the back of my neck showed their instant approval. Before long (well, a month or so) I found my visceral reaction extending to the music itself: achingly beautiful songs crafted and arranged with tender, loving care and subtlety.

The 14 numbers on Krauss's latest release, for which she has joined forces with the guys from Union Station, are every bit as captivating, even if she does hand over the vocal chores to Union Station's lead singer every so often to concentrate on fiddle and viola. Not every track jumps up and grabs you by the throat at first, but give each song enough time to work its magic and, like the best kind of wine, the rewards for patience are considerable.

'So Long So Wrong' may not be the stuff of mass appeal (even if it's sometimes reminiscent of the gentler side of Fleetwood Mac), but then it's often those mass-appeal CDs which lose their allure long before rare gems like this do. (Jeremy Dowson)

Andrea Bocelli Romanza

Buying this CD was a total fluke. I will freely admit here and now that I have never been an opera fan, having no real clue as to what goes on in them. I went into Sessions, in the V & A Waterfront, and heard the last track, which impulsively made me purchase the damn thing (I tend to do things like this, my most memorable buy being a Supertramp album). And what a surprise I got.

Andrea Bocelli sounds like a young Pavarotti (whom I'm beginning to get to grips with) and he looks like your typically gorgeous, dark, mysterious Italian to boot. There are 15 tracks, each one superb in itself - and there are a few duets dotted here and there. But my favourites include 'Miserere' with John Miles, (remember 'Music Is My First Love?'), which was recorded live from London's 'Night of the Proms' in 1995, and I got quite a fright listening to Miles singing in Italian, as I've known him since I was five years old (his wife Eileen used to be my babysitter) and he belts out a pretty good Italian accent, despite a heavy, broad Geordie (Newcastle on Tyne) accent in real life. The other standout rack is 'Con te Partiro' (Time To Say Goodbye), a duet by Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. It's reminiscent of her Andrew Lloyd-Webber days and is a beautiful four-minute mixture of English and Italian. I have to listen to this track at least once a day.

So guys, it's a bit late for Valentine's Day, but bear this one in mind for Mother's Day -- it'll probably get you a couple of month's worth of free laundry! (Karon McGregor)

Burt Bacharach Burt Bacharach

To any fan of classic '60s pop, the name Burt Bacharach is synonymous with consistently high-quality songwriting. Partnered by lyricist Hal David, Bacharach wrote hit after hit for everyone from Dionne Warwick ('A House Is Not A Home') and Aretha Franklin ('I Say A Little Prayer') to Dusty Springfield ('The Look Of Love') and BJ Thomas ('Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head'), often riding roughshod over conventions surrounding timing in order to wrest as many unforgettable hooks as possible out of a single three-minute song.

Unfortunately poor old Burt never could sing, which is why I'd recommend that only drooling, out-and-out Burtophiles consider spending their shekels on 21 examples of why some songwriters are best kept in a back room and fed tea and biscuits every few hours. OK, so most tracks are largely instrumental, with a few snatches of reverb-laden female backing vocals here and there, but when Burt does turn his pitch-challenged larynx to songs such as 'Make It Easy On Yourself', the results are so awful that they had my musician flatmate covering his ears in pain (and he doesn't do that even for my Sex Pistols collection). I'd be the first to agree that what the world needs now is love sweet love, as the song says, but not this. Anything but this. (Jeremy Dowson)

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