I've always liked Rickie Lee Jones and have most of her albums and CDs, but she's not someone I automatically think of when I come to singer songwriters. Her new Rhino Records' triple CD anthology, Duchess of Coolsville, however, has made me realise what a great body of work she has. [In fact I spent most of yesterday relistening to it!]

One of the interesting things about this anthology is that the tracks are not chronological, but an ordering of Jones' favourites across the first two CDs. Music from all eras, from bar-room blues, with funky double bass, through to the beats and chants of her neglected masterpiece Ghostyhead, along with glossier mainstream label tunes and more recent, poppier songs, all rub shoulders. The sparks between them are fantastic, and throughout all the tracks Jones' voice swoops and soars, a husky angel coaxing smokey tunes along.

The third CD features a few rarities and some fantastic demos. In the booklet Walter Becker, who produced Flying Cowboys back in 1989, recalls hearing numerous versions and demos of songs which were all good enough to release - and that was before they started on the album. So here are some of those demos, and Becker is right, they are good!

Like all compilations, one can quibble about what's been selected for inclusion and what hasn't, but this is a stunning showcase for someone who deserves more than just critical acclaim.

I'm never quite sure about the status of Tindersticks - are they simply 'critically acclaimed' or do they sell CDs? Anyway, lead singer Stuart Staples has a beautiful collection of side projects and home recordings out on Beggars Banquet, entitled lucky dog recordings 03-04. These lugubrious songs are looser and more relaxed than Tindersticks's work, but feature that same well-paced and careful approach, with enticing, memorable tunes hidden in the layers.

It's not a million miles away from Tindersticks, perhaps with a detour via The Sound and Joy Division, to the Editors' album, The Back Room, which has just come out on Kitchenware. There's a sense of murk and mystery, of darkness and despair, underpinning these melancholic songs; I rather surprised myself liking them, as they do seem to be mainly another visit to the late 70s. But there's something here to hold my attention; and the bonus CD 'Cuttings' really contains rejected songs from 'the cutting-room floor' then they have a good solid base to work from.

It was of course back in the 70s that Wire were first formed; one of the current splinter groups and playful asides of that band is Githead, which features Colin Newman along with Scanner/Robin Rimbaud and Malka Spigel of Minimal Compact. Their new CD Profile on Swim is a masterpiece of rhythmic experimentation, with songs dryly layered over the propulsion. It reminds me mostly of the He Said albums [which is high praise indeed], but here the textures are warmer and the vocals a little more relaxed. I like it a lot.

As I do the new Great Lake Swimmers CD. Bodies and Minds [Fargo] is a set of fragile, enticing and enchanting songs recorded in an empty church. The driftwood on the back cover is an appropriate image: here are songs which seemingly arrive whole and formed in the air, here are lust and love drawn in sound. Neal Casal does similar things, but with a rockier [or country-rock] sensibility, on his anthology Leaving Traces: Songs 1994-2004, which is also on Fargo. Previously just a name to me, Casal articulates despair and lust over Neil-Young like tunes to glorious effect. Like the Great Lake Swimmers and Stuart Staples, Casal deserves to live over in Coolsville, where Rickie Lee Jones holds court.

© 2005 Rupert Loydell