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Culture: Three is the magic number for the babes.

Various - Sham Rock (Castle) CMDDD 798 Back in the 60s, America was caught up in a West Coast explosion and Britain was riding the Beat boom. In Ireland, however, it was the age of showbands. Emerging from the ballroom dance scene they were essentially about providing punters with covers of American hits while ensuring a sizeable amount of Irish country found its way into the set. Represented by Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline, the most successful was The Royal Showband Waterford (whose version of I Ran All The Way Home was a classic in my collection) while snapping at their heels the Miami Showband, led by one Dickie Rock, notched up hit after Irish hit between '63 and '68, including a cover of the 1910 Fruitgum Company's Simon Says. Although the best known name on this double CD will be Joe Dolan, who had a UK hit with Make Me An Island, it's fabu-lously cheesy collection features a wealth of tracks from outfits such as Pat Lynch & The Airchords, Tina & The Mexicans and, underlining the frequent desire to sound as American as possible, The Freshmen with credible surfing covers of Papa Oom Mow Mow (sic) and Little Old Lady From Pasadena. Songs covered, some may say mutilated, range from Proud Mary and I Can't Help Myself to Quick Joey Small and Chapel of Love, but for me nothing beats the dose of good old Irish maudlin country pop that is The Cadets' I Gave My Wedding Dress Away where the singer relates how she gave up her fiance to the kid sister she'd brought up since mom died. Brilliant! ****Sugababes - Three (Island) CID1837 They may have postponed their tour but the trio's third album (Three, geddit) arrives on schedule and proves the most commercially direct yet, addictive pop mixing it up with funk, ragga, hip hop and the inevitable lush ballads. Kicking off with the no nonsense swagger rock of midperiod Madonna and a dash of Boney M Hole In The Head, the sitar sprinkled crunch funk Whatever Makes You Happy assures us they're in it for the music not the fame.

Of course, a little global adulation and accompanying bank accounts probably won't go amiss. And much as they find such things vulgar there's little doubt the likes of Diane Warren's purring pop r&b ballad Too Lost In You and the slow jazzy waltzer Sometimes are going to be proving soundtracks to a million or so burgeoning romances.

They're at their best though when they stretch out and explore more challenging textures, the suitably stroppy rhythms of playground hip hop Twisted, a jabbing funkpop In The Middle (though it's hard to believe it took 11 people to write it) and, most strikingly, Nasty Ghetto, a pulsing percussive beats predatory urban groove that seems to have been written with stage strobe lighting in mind, breaking into a snake charmer sway midway before the girls pull back into that Neneh Cherry thang.

It could have possibly done without the electro mud bubbling and spacey touches on Maya and the overproduced strings on Caught In A Moment which seems to be pitched high enough to scare cats, but in the ongoing power struggle for girl group dominance, the 'babes have wrested back the crown for at least the next six months. **** Texas - Careful What You Wish For (Mercury) 9865697 Sharleen Spiteri may have a new look but her band has always had a bit of a retro musical identity crisis. They've done the blues, Motown soul, Phil Spector pop, country. So it's no surprise that their first album in four years should evoke an assortment of reference points.

Blondie particularly springs to mind with the naggingly sher-berty Under Your Skin and Broken's hints of Union City Blue; even the telephone rings of the glam rock stomp Telephone X make you think of Hanging On The Telephone. If it's not Debbie Harry, it's Madonna with And I Dream or Chrissie Hynde in I Go To Sleep mode on I'll See It Though. And even teaming up with Suncycle doesn't seem to have stopped Walk On The Wild Side's riff creeping in or Dolo-mite collaboration Place In My World getting a touch of the New Orders.

Does it matter? Not really. Spiteri sings like a tiger/kitten (delete according to tempo) and be it the irresistibly sunny Carnival Girl (which borrows its melody from Dizzy) featuring Canadian rapper Kardinal Offishall, Twin Peaksy dreamy jangler Another Day, the Northern soul meets Siouxie and the Banshees title track or the tumbling rush of soaring rock that is likely live stormer And I Dream, this is about as much pop perfection as you can handle in one sitting. **** Jason McNiff - Nobody's Son (Snowstorm) Storm 20CDThe cover of McNiff's second album features a book cover designed to look like one of those well worn Penguin Classics of the 60s while on the back is a photo of browned autumn leaves. It's an appropriate image of the music which, helped out by various members of Grand Drive and Hank Dogs, harks back to those dusty old sepia days when students hung round coffee shops with acoustic guitars and spent evenings hunched round the record player soaking up the latest Dylan.

The young Bob is an immediate reference point here, both in the simple folksy finger picked acoustic guitar arrangements and McNiff's gentle nasally twang. Indeed blindly happening upon I Remember You or Blow Up The Bridge you could be almost persuaded this was a lost Greenwich village Dylan recording.

Dylan's not the only muse in evidence, the gentle rolling folk country if Outta Here and the gorgeous title track surely point to a few John Prine and Eric Andersen records in the house while the folk blues Time Goes Rollin' On and the high voice, banjo and accordion of All Around America hark back to the the old masters, John Fahey and Woody Guthrie.

He even mentions the Grand Cooley Dam on Oh Caroline. He writes the sort of yearning songs that sound like they've been around for years too, things you've searched second hand racks for in vain. Buy this album now, or you may find yourself doing just that. ****

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Sugababes have taken back the top slot...for now; Sharleen Spiteri
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 1, 2003
Words:1045
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