Jewel (Atlantic)

When she isn't busy acting (1999's Ride with the Devil) or writing poetry (two popular collections), Jewel occasionally makes time for music. On This Way, her first album of entirely new material since 1998's Spirit, she trades in the high-gloss sheen of that overproduced disc and reverts to the rough-hewn musical and lyrical candor that moved more than 10 million copies of her '95 debut, Pieces of You. While she's surprisingly droll on the wry "Jesus Loves You" ("They say you're only half alive/'Till you give extra-whitening a try") and her weepy ballads shimmer as usual, she is at her neo-folkie best on the acoustic "Sometimes It Be That Way." Jewel recorded this album in Nashville, and it unbecomingly shows. Her earnest forays into country-rock, with their happy-go-twanginess, are just irritating.

Bottom Line: Jewel gets her folk-us back

Mick Jagger (Virgin)

Some things should not be split: infinitives, a new pair of pants, the atom. Likewise, wandering out on his fourth solo effort, Mick Jagger lacks the compass of Keith Richards's guitar. Future musicologists will be stunned to learn these 12 songs date from 2001; many sound like mid-'80s midtempo rockers by middling bands. Guest stars—Pete Townshend, Rob Thomas, Bono—fade in the mix as Jagger, 58, veers from light funk to light electronica with sporadic success. Only Lenny Kravitz brings things up to date, with a grinding guitar on the single "God Gave Me Everything."

Two ballads, though, stand out—"Don't Call Me Up," a confessional that echoes Stones classics like "Memory Motel" and "Waiting on a Friend," and "Too Far Gone," a rare nod to time for a guy who hasn't gained a pound since the Nixon Administration ("I would spend my childhood days/Lost in starry dreams/And now watch my children/Just downloading them to screens"). Here's hoping Jagger will never learn to act his age, but better to play off being a rock and roll geezer than to replay the '80s.

Bottom Line: Waiting on a friend like Keith

Garth Brooks (Capitol)

Album of the week

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A better title would have been Tin Man, since not having a brain has never been the business-savvy Brooks's problem. Heart has been a different story, though. His emotional range has been limited to standard-issue statements of love and angst. That's why this, which Brooks claimed last year would be his final album, is his best work to date: It pulses with human feeling, from "Mr. Midnight," about the plight of an overnight deejay, to "When You Come Back to Me Again," a tune for those who've loved and lost.

Brooks doesn't forget to kick up his spurs, notably on lively duets with George Jones and Trisha Yearwood, and he even jumps on the bluegrass haywagon for a gospel-tinged number. If this is to be the last disc from a superstar, what a way to go!

Bottom Line: Plenty to crow about

Pink (Arista)

Who knew that beneath the fuchsia mop lurked the soul of a sensitive singer-songwriter? Pink, who went double-platinum with last year's sassy R&B-pop debut, Can't Take Me Home, now aims to separate herself from the brash attitude of the "Lady Marmalade" pack (Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, et al) by blending introspective lyrics that are refreshingly honest with music that veers more to pop-rock than R&B. For the most part, Pink (real name: Alecia Moore) succeeds. Her idol Linda Perry, former front woman of 4 Non Blondes, helped write and produce, bringing a Lilith Fair feel to cuts like the punky feminist anthem "Respect," which should earn Pink just that.

Bottom Line: Pink unplugged

Eagle-Eye Cherry (MCA)

On this, his sophomore disc, Eagle-Eye Cherry—the son of famed jazz trumpeter Don and brother of singer-rapper Neneh ("Buffalo Stance")—contributes another well-crafted page to an impressive family album. Cherry, best known for his 1999 hit "Save Tonight," serves up folky pop-rock compositions that fall safely between alternative and adult contemporary, just right for VH1. Think Lenny Kravitz lite.

But while Present/Future is generally enjoyable, few cuts (like the rootsy "Shades of Gray" and the Latin-flavored "Wishing It Was," featuring Carlos Santana on guitar) manage to stand out, in part due to the singer-songwriter's generic lyrics: " 'Cause all I know/Is you and I are meant to be," he chimes on the single "Feels So Right." His thin voice is pretty unremarkable too, upstaged by his more soulful sister, who joins him on "Long Way Around," a country-meets-hip-hop ditty that makes one wish Neneh would record another album. Still, you can't fault Eagle-Eye's taste in duet partners.

Bottom Line: This Cherry doesn't fall far from the family tree

>Beyoncé Knowles

For Destiny's Child singer Beyoncé Knowles, auditioning to play Foxxy Cleopatra in Austin Powers 3: Goldmember last month "felt like going to the principal's office," she says. "Mike Myers was there, which is a lot of pressure. And I said, 'I don't think I'm funny.' I was a little too honest."

She landed the gig anyway. "They called two days later," says Knowles, 20, who made her film debut in May in the MTV movie Carmen: The Hip-Hopera. "I love acting. It's so stable, not like living on a tour bus. It's a growing experience for me, to be at home and learn to cook for myself. It's a sense of peace."

Which she hopes to find with her family in Houston for the holidays after heading to L.A. to shoot AP3 in early December. Destiny's Child just released its first holiday disc, 8 Days of Christmas, but all three members are planning solo albums. Is there ever tension? "No jealousies and no insecurities," says Knowles, who admits she always ends up in the middle at photo shoots, performances and appearances. "I think that's because my hair's blonde and I'm the lightest [skinned]. I guess it evens out the picture, but that's not how we station ourselves. I'm the peacemaker. I hold everything together.

Having a boyfriend to hold wouldn't be so bad either. "I like guys that are a bit off-center," says Knowles. "We're all single. But I know I want me a man for Christmas!"

  • Contributors:
  • Sona Charaipotra,
  • Kyle Smith,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Chuck Arnold.