R&B

Destiny Fulfilled

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After the crazy success of Beyoncé's 2003 solo debut Dangerously in Love—which sold 3 million copies, won her five Grammys and established her as the It Girl of pop last year—one suspected that the singer might renege on her promise to reunite with Destiny's Child and instead make it all about "me, myself and I." But the R&B girl group's three-year hiatus, during which Kelly Rowland also released a solo disc and Michelle Williams churned out two gospel albums, is over. And despite Beyoncé's pumped-up wattage—or maybe because she was just too busy to spend as much time on this CD—it's actually much more of a collaborative effort than The Beyoncé Show. The three trade lead vocals on—and share writing credits for—all but one track, and that one ("Bad Habit") showcases Rowland, who really steps up on this disc. First single "Lose My Breath," an uptempo club cut with bustling beats including a simulated marching band, gets things jumpin' jumpin'. Destiny Fulfilled, though, mostly picks up where the second two-thirds of Beyoncé's Dangerously in Love left off, with lots of luxurious slow-to-midtempo grooves that show off the trio's sexier, more supple vocals. But on the highlight, "Through with Love," the ladies work up some righteous indignation as the song builds to its gospel climax.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Through with Love"

POP

Miracle

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It's a small Miracle that Celine Dion tones down her usual chest-heaving ways on this collection of lullabies, which was released in conjunction with a coffee-table book featuring photos of newborns (some with Dion) shot by lenswoman Anne Geddes. You have to wait until the very last track, "In Some Small Way," before the real Dion pulls out all the stops with a gospel choir. The singer's more muted performances give a tender touch to lush, hushed covers like "What a Wonderful World" and John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" and original songs like the title tune. But unless you've got your own little bundle of joy to put to bed, the overall effect can be a bit too sleepy—and sappy.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "What a Wonderful World"

RAP

PowerBallin'

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After the double-platinum success of his 2003 debut, Jackpot, which spawned the hits "Right Thurr," "Holidae In" and "One Call Away," this rapper should be renamed Ka-Ching. His sophomore CD, PowerBallin', is a good bet to keep the cash flowing. Chingy cements his status as the new Nelly—another St. Louis emcee with a pen-chant for making radio-friendly hip-hop and dragging out his R's—with infectious party tracks like "Balla Baby," on which he boasts about his player prowess over a pimp-strolling groove bolstered by piano and strings. R. Kelly, doing his umpteenth guest vocal on a rap disc joins the fiesta on the Latin-tinged "Leave wit Me." Meanwhile, Janet Jackson turns up on the sexy slow jam "Don't Worry," and the way she coos "Oh, Chingy" should have the singer's boyfriend, music producer Jermaine Dupri, worried.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Balla Baby"

FOLK-POP

The Ones We Never Knew

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With her laconic talk-singing style on this dour debut album, this singer-songwriter-guitarist could hardly seem less like the 23-year-old daughter of Hank Williams Jr. (and the granddaughter of country legend Hank Williams). Rather than a straight-up country album, this project is more of a neo-folk-pop affair with a whiny subtext underlying everything. None of this would matter if Williams were a better poet, but her lyrics are mundane and humorless. She tells us on "Sometimes," "I wish I was a fine wine/ I wish I were a good drug/ Hey, and if I were Jesus, maybe I could heal all of us/ Just like a good lover, which one do you prefer?" And on "Velvet Sounds" she sings, "Black and pink and white/ These are colors that remind me of the night." Sadly, the most colorful thing about Williams's CD may be that her backup musicians include a string section named the LoveSponge Quartet.

ROCK

Stardust...The Great American Songbook Volume III

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You've got to give Rod Stewart credit. He improbably revived his career by donning a dinner jacket and dusting off some old standards with 2002's It Had to Be You...The Great American Songbook and then last year's As Time Goes By...The Great American Songbook Volume II. For the raspy-voiced rocker who once salivated after "Hot Legs," this was indeed an extreme makeover. Now, with the third installment of his Songbook franchise, Stewart, at 59, has notched his first No. 1 album on the Billboard pop chart since 1978's Blondes Have More Fun. Unfortunately, Stardust amounts to another lackluster artistic effort. While the sound of Hot Rod crooning classics like "Embraceable You" and "For Sentimental Reasons" has grown more tolerable with time, he's still no Tony Bennett. Two duets produce mixed results. Stewart and Bette Midler make a delightful duo on a playful "Manhattan," while his ill-matched pairing with Dolly Parton on "Baby, It's Cold Outside" fails to generate any heat.

DOWN LOAD THIS: "Manhattan"

PUNK-POP

Still Not Getting Any...

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Those expecting Simple Plan to grow up and put away their skateboards after the band's platinum 2002 debut, No Pads, No Helmets, Just Balls..., will quickly find out otherwise. The Montreal punk-pop quintet kicks off its sophomore disc with the bratty attack "Shut Up," on which they rail, "Nothing you say today is gonna bring me down." Indeed, with this rock-solid set, nothing should bring Simple Plan down. The group succeeds by keeping its approach pretty basic with energetic rockers and sing-along anthems powered by instantly catchy choruses. The first single, "Welcome to My Life," is a TRL-ready tale of adolescent alienation ("Do you lock yourself in your room?/ With the radio on turned up so loud/ That no one hears you screaming") that even grownups could enjoy. On the equally hooky "Crazy," Simple Plan addresses girls struggling with their beauty image: "Diet pills, surgery/ Photoshopped pictures in magazines/ Telling them how they should be/ It doesn't make sense to me." Meanwhile, "Me Against the World" is a rebel rallier with a chorus ripped straight from the 1991 Nirvana grunge classic "Smells Like Teen Spirit." And "Thank You" is a speedy rant that, with guitars loaded, sarcastically takes aim at a backstabbing best friend. Spits lead singer Pierre Bouvier: "Your friendship, the good times we had/ You can have them back."

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Thank You"

Phil Vassar

Shaken Not Stirred

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Phil Vassar has carved himself a substantial niche in Nashville, and he hasn't used a cookie cutter to do it. Vassar is an effectively romantic country singer. One reason is his ability to approach love themes in a lot of different ways without ever sounding like he's pandering to dispirited modern notions of chivalry. On this follow-up to 2002's American Child, the Lynchburg, Va., native goes from the unapologetically affectionate "Nobody Knows Me Like You" and his recent No. 1 hit "In a Real Love" to the playfully sexy "I'll Take That as a Yes (The Hot Tub Song)." Vassar composed 10 of the album's 12 tunes, with help from his wife, Julie, and his friend Craig Wiseman. Most of the tracks allow him to flaunt his extraordinary piano playing. This is most obvious on "Black and Whites," a tribute to his instrument that has a bluesy, Billy Joel feel. But throughout, Vassar decorates his vocals with his keyboard work in a way that evokes the best singer-pianists, from Nat "King" Cole and Hoagy Carmichael to Ronnie Milsap and Diana Krall.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "I'll Take That as a Yes (The Hot Tub Song)"

Jimmy Eat World, Futures
This alt-pop outfit's fifth CD tackles themes like voter apathy and depression with a deceptively light touch.

Blake Shelton, Blake Shelton's Barn & Grill Shelton maintains a high level of artistic integrity with this ingratiating album of terrific country music.

Roso Passos, Amorosa
Brazilian star Passos may herald a rebirth of bossa nova and samba with this vibrant collection.

Willie Nelson, It Always Will Be
On his charmingly romantic latest, the 71-year-old country great turns his well-aged laconic style to affecting duets with Norah Jones and Lucinda Williams.

Elliot Smith, From a Basement on the Hill
The singer-songwriter, who died last year at 34, makes a lasting impression thanks to some engaging, surprisingly upbeat pop-rock with layered electric guitars plus gorgeous acoustic tracks.

MOS DEF fans will most definitely want to check out the live songs "Champion Requiem" and "Sex, Love & Money" from a Jimmy Kimmel Live performance, at mosdefmusic.com.

U2(below) gives diehards all that they were looking for with a digital box set called The Complete U2, at iTunes. It has over 400 tracks including 25 rare or previously unreleased cuts.

BECK'S Midnight Vultures track "Debra" and Pharrell Williams's, featuring Jay-Z's 2003 hit "Frontin'," are mashed together by DJ Reset into a smooth tune called "Frontin' on Debra," at iTunes.

FRANZ FERDINAND, the Scottish post-punk foursome with the new single "Michael," spins forth the quirky bonus track "Tell Her Tonight (Paul Sings)," at franzferdinand.co.uk.

  • Contributors:
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Ralph Novak.