Kevin Bryan delivers his verdict on some of this week's CD releases.

Joan Armatrading, "Not Too Far Away" (BMG)- Joan Armatrading's candid musings on the vagaries of the human condition have seen the Saint Kitts born performer showered with a whole host of critical accolades since she made her vinyl debut long long ago in 1972 with "Whatever's For Us." What's equally remarkable is the fact that Joan has never allowed her musical standards to slip during a career which now spans almost half a century, and "Not Too Far Away" is a typically intense and personal tour de force. Joan writes, produces, arranges and handles all the instrumentation on a powerful package which peaks with "I Like It When We're Together," "Cover My Eyes" and the anthemic "Any Place."

New Riders of the Purple Sage, "The Best Of" (Retro World)-The Californian country-rockers who took the inspiration for their name from Zane Grey's classic cowboy tale began life in the late sixties as an offshoot of the Grateful Dead, and the band's legendary guitarist Jerry Garcia chips in on several fine tracks here, most notably the traditional country pastiches "Glendale Train" and "I Don't Know You." These choice extracts from the New Riders' self-titled 1971 debut set share centre stage here with fine versions of Peter Rowan's "Panama Red" and a brace of Dylan gems, "Farewell Angelina" and "You Angel You."

Harvey Mandel, "Live at Broadway Studios San Francisco" (Wienerworld)- Harvey Mandel plied his trade with iconic rockers such as Canned Heat, John Mayall and the Rolling Stones during the late sixties and early seventies, and was by all accounts a serious contender to replace Mick Taylor on a permanent basis when he quit the latter outfit in 1974. The full-time Stones gig eventually went to Ron Wood and very little seems to have been heard from Mandel since those days, although the Detroit born guitarist was in particularly fine fettle when he captured this inventive live set for posterity in 2001, regaling his enthusiastic audience with perennial crowd pleasers such as "The Snake," "Christo Redentor" and an extended "Wade in the Water."

Manfred Mann, "Mann Made Hits" (Umbrella Music)-This newly released CD re-issue focusses attention on an excellent 1966 anthology which showcased the hit-making output of the first incarnation of keyboardist Manfred Mann's eclectic combo. Frontman Paul Jones was once hailed as one of his greatest vocal influences by no less a rock luminary than Bruce Springsteen and his charismatic presence certainly illuminated memorable chart successes such as "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" and "Pretty Flamingo," the latter featuring future Cream bassist Jack Bruce during his brief stint with the band.