Our critics look at the best and worst of this week's releases
Emma's Imagination: Stand Still **
You might think that securing the thumbs-up from such an idiosyncratic judging panel as Sharleen Spiteri, Jamie Cullum and Dizzee Rascal would stand Emma's Imagination, winner of Sky 1's talent search Must Be The Music, in reasonable stead. But while Scottish singer/songwriter Emma Gillespie is slick, competent and professional and has resisted the temptation to clutter her inoffensive compositions with anything more than the occasional tasteful string arrangement, it is hard to imagine anyone mustering that much excitement for her flimsy, fragrant flutterings. Only the Tunstallesque bluesy inflection of Soul Of Oceans and the brooding dubby Puddy Muddle provide any respite from all the insipid niceness.
Mark Olson: Many Colored Kite ***
Jayhawks founder Mark Olson claws his way back from the emotional brink of his previous album Salvation Blues with this relatively upbeat offering. Olson's brittle quaver ensures the tone never gets too chirpy but his conversational phrasing lends an immediacy to this musically fancy-free collection spanning sparse folk, burnished Americana and mainstream rootsy pop. Vashti Bunyan wisps in the background of the lo-fi No Time To Live Without Her, while Jolie Holland provides more robust support on the optimistic Little Bird Of Freedom but Olson's most effective foil is his bandmate and partner Ingunn Ringvold whose naturally warm twang complements Olson's more plaintive timbre as they ramble together through this pleasant, undemanding musical landscape.
Stone Ghost Collective: Unrequited Lovesongs ****
Shark Batter Records, Only available online
Stone Ghost Collective's previous album was inspired by theoretical physics. Their next is a pagan choral epic. In the meantime, here are some disarming songs about love and heartbreak. You can hear the happy tension between the quirkier instincts of these two ex-members of Borders indie rockers Dawn of the Replicants and their ability to write a damn fine bittersweet love song in the caustic catharsis of Lost Cause or the droll doo-wop of Another Today which owes as much to Stephin Merritt as it does to the Beach Boys. And Teenage Fanclub would not turn their noses up at the dreamy MOR tunefulness of Crystal Clear or Moonlight Cantata. Time to give some love back. FIONA SHEPHERD
Paul Hindemith: Music for viola and orchestra ****
As a viola player himself, Paul Hindemith created a series of works for that instrument that not only exploited its intimate potential (the Sonatas), but also explored its potential as a concerto protagonist. It's in the latter role that soloist Lawrence Power and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra mete out a string of vigorous and colourful performances courtesy of the Hyperion label. Both Konzertmusik Op.48 and Kammermusik 5 are typical of the composer's mix of dry wit and grit – a wry, Weill-like abrasiveness – while the three-movement concerto Der Schwanendreher and gorgeous Trauermusik show Power and Hindemith in more soulful mood. David Atherton conducts solid, thoughtful interpretations. KENNETH WALTON
The Microscopic Septet: Friday the Thirteenth ****
Cuneiform Records, 13.99
The music of Thelonious Monk has long since cast off its "difficult" image, and these days is covered by all manner of musicians. The long-running New York band The Microscopic Septet, co-led for three decades by saxophonist Phillip Johnston and pianist Joel Forrester, take on a dozen of the master's trademark tunes, mostly such well-known pieces as Brilliant Corners, Off-Minor, Misterioso and Epistrophy, but also less frequently visited items like Gallop's Gallop, Teo and Worry Later. The line-up of four saxophones and rhythm trio offers ample scope for their often quirky arranging skills. Their approach to the material is more respectful and less experimental than in much of their earlier work, but is still infused with the idiosyncratic spirit of adventure that has been their trademark, and ensures even the warhorses here emerge in fresh and engaging colours. KENNY MATHIESON
Catford: Chronicles ***
This is a slightly bemusing but often engaging excursion as a trio of North-East musicians, including two founders of the seasoned folk band the Old Blind Dogs, emigrate musically to the US West coast to come up with original songs which, at their best, combine creamy vocal harmonies and some silky string settings. Former OBD drummer Davy Cattanach shares lead and backing vocals with Steve Crawford, while the one remaining original OBD, Jonny Hardie, provides some bluegrassy fiddle, mandolin, piano, string arrangements and backing vocals further bolstered here by guest singers Nicky Cairney and Mhairi Sinclair.
The opening harmonies of Tired Old Bones firmly set the musical course westwards, with Cattanach's voice coming to the fore, as it does in the winsomely catchy Silver. Nigel Hitchcock's limber saxophone lines thread their way through several numbers to fine effect, including the Crosby, Stills-and-Nash-ish Lonestar, while Hardie's fiddle riffs dramatically under Cattanach's declamatory vocals in Pointed Swords.