I Am ... Sasha Fierce
"Been the No. 1 diva in this game for a minute," boasts Beyoncé, making like Lil Wayne on the "A Milli"-esque "Diva." It certainly takes a real diva to release a double disc with one CD as Beyoncé and the second as her alter ego Sasha Fierce. (And she offers both an 11-track standard version and a 16-track deluxe one.) Disc 1, for the popheads, delivers ballad after ballad, and there are some lush beauties. Most stunning is "If I Were a Boy," one of the tenderest things she's ever done, while the classically tinged "Ave Maria," which riffs on the revered piece, shows even more range. Disc 2, designed to move the R&B-dance crowd, unleashes Sasha on "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," a killer club banger and a cheeky nod to the new bling on Beyoncé's finger. Notoriously tight-lipped about her relationship, she opens up on songs like the deluxe-only "Hello," sharing just how fierce it is to be Mrs. Jay-Z.
After selling over 7 million copies of 2005's All the Right Reasons
, Nickelback could hardly be considered underdogs on Dark Horse
. With rock-blockbuster producer Robert "Mutt" Lange onboard, they flex their newfound muscle on hard-hitting cuts like the raunchy, Def Leppard-esque "Something in Your Mouth," while also finding their pop stride on more mainstream tracks.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Shakin' Hands," a sleazy bump-and-grinder
With the retro movement ongoing in the U.K., Welsh stud emeritus Tom Jones reclaims his '60s sound on his first U.S. release in 15 years. Indeed, the first single "If He Should Ever Leave You," with its classic-feeling soul-pop, holds its own with Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" or Duffy's "Mercy." Meanwhile, the swaggering "Sugar Daddy," cowritten by U2's Bono and the Edge, shows that, at 68, he can still keep the panties coming.
His girlfriend, Miranda Lambert, sang about setting off a blaze with "Kerosene." And on "Good at Startin' Fires," the sly, soulful highlight of Blake Shelton's fifth album, he sings, "My baby's gotten good, good at startin' fires." But make no mistake, he's the "only one who puts them out." Shelton keeps his flame burning bright on much of this disc, including first single "She Wouldn't Be Gone," a rueful ballad, and "Bare Skin Rug," an old-timey duet with Lambert.
REVIEWED BY IVORY JEFF CLINTON
After a foray into jazz on last year's excellent Dinah Washington tribute, Destination Moon
, Deborah Cox makes a winning return to the pop-friendly soul with which she began her career. Her powerful yet sensitive delivery is showcased on smooth grooves and ballads like the John Legend-assisted title track.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Beautiful U R," an uplifting club kicker
For more information on where to find our Download This picks, go to people.com/downloadthis
Sorry, Beyoncé: Before Sasha (left), there was Mariah Carey
's The Emancipation of Mimi
SCOTT WEILAND 'Happy' in Galoshes
Who needs Stone Temple Pilots or Velvet Revolver? Not Weiland, whose second solo outing is a sprawling double disc that lets him indulge his every musical whim. Flaws and all, it's an impressive outpour.
ANDREA BOCELLI Incanto
The Italian tenor pays tribute to his homeland on his latest, and it's enough to send you packing your bags for Naples. Wherever you may be, these passionately sung songs will surely put a little romanza in the air.
ZAC BROWN BAND The Foundation
On their major-label debut, these country boys come across like a really good bar band. Fun but frivolous songs like "Chicken Fried," the hit first single, no doubt sound better after a brewski or two.
THE KNUX Remind Me in 3 Days...
Anyone who's been missing OutKast (what's up with them?) should check out these two brothers from New Orleans. Their hip-hop debut is a genre-defying adventure that does Big Boi and André 3000 proud.
Keeps Gettin' Better: A Decade of Hits
(available exclusively at Target) is exactly what an Xtina fan wants, with a fresh infusion of electronica on two new songs and revamps of "Genie in a Bottle" and "Beautiful."
The crooner, 65, takes on yet another decade on his new CD, The Greatest Songs of the Eighties
ON REVISITING THE '80S I like what we did to "Islands in the Stream" [with Reba McEntire]. "Careless Whisper" was hard—George Michael is just fantastic. I tried Michael Jackson's "Rock with You," but I couldn't sing it. White Jewish boy couldn't nail it.
ON HIS VEGAS SHOW It's been almost four years. I love it. When I was a youngster, I said, one of these days I'll end up here.
ON THE SONGS HE HAS TO SING They would riot if I didn't do "Copacabana." And probably "I Write the Songs," "Mandy" and "Can't Smile Without You."
ON HIS LONGEVITY I'm lucky. I've got my hair, I'm still skinny. It's amazing that I'm 65 and still making albums.
JAMIE FOXX hooks up with red-hot rapper T.I. on "Just Like Me," a hip-hop soul jam previewing his third disc, Intuition
, out Dec. 16. At amazon.com.
SMASHING PUMPKINS rev up the axe-tion on the digital-only release "G.L.O.W.," from the video game Guitar Hero: World Tour. At iTunes.com.
(below) brings back old-fashioned courtship on the country-rocker "Sweet Thing," from his next CD, due early 2009. At iTunes.com.
New singer Paul Rodgers (center), formerly of Free and Bad Company, fronts the band's first studio album in 13 years, The Cosmos Rocks
HOW DID PAUL JOIN THE BAND? "I was playing with him at an awards show [in 2004], and suddenly it seemed like the most natural thing in the world," says guitarist Brian May, 61. "This guy was a hero to us, certainly to Freddie." Adds drummer Roger Taylor, 59: "He gives us that blues edge. He doesn't try to be Freddie." Indeed, Rodgers, 58, says, "I don't think of myself, or anybody, replacing Freddie."
WHY'D YOU DEDICATE THE ALBUM TO FREDDIE? "We still feel his spirit," says May. "We think, 'Now, what would Fred think about this?'" After Mercury's 1991 death, Taylor says, "The first five years were the worst, but then life does go on. He wouldn't have approved of us just sitting on our asses collecting royalty checks." Rodgers seconds that: "It's a show that needs to go on."