Ludacris

Battle of the Sexes |

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RAP

You can always count on Ludacris for some laugh-out-loud, oh-no-he-didn't moments on his albums. On his seventh disc, the Grammy-winning rapper saves his best zinger for last: the bonus track "Sexting," which, with its references to sex rehab and tawdry texting, hilariously lampoons Tiger Woods over a banging Neptunes beat. The golfer provides more lyrical fodder on another highlight, the thumping "My Chick Bad," on which Ludacris boasts about a lady who's "comin' out swingin' like Tiger Woods' wife." Elsewhere, Battle tackles gender issues on cuts such as "Hey Ho," which addresses double standards about sex as only Luda can. But on slow jams like the Ne Yo assisted "Tell Me a Secret," he is all about making love and not war.

Jamie Cullum

The Pursuit |

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JAZZ-POP

British piano man Jamie Cullum engages in many musical pursuits on his latest album. He goes from big band (a swinging rendition of Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things") to house music (the pulsating original "Music Is Through"), show tunes ("Not While I'm Around" from Sweeney Todd) to a Rihanna cover (a torchy take on "Don't Stop the Music"). Such eclecticism serves to help this jazz-pop crooner from being just another Sinatra wannabe. To his credit, Cullum also does more writing than, say, Michael Buble. Ten of 14 songs bear his pen, including "I Think, I Love," which you could well mistake for a '40s standard.

Danny Gokey

My Best Days |

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COUNTRY-POP

Avid American Idol watchers will remember that Danny Gokey, last year's third-place finisher, scored well with the judges when he performed Rascal Flatts' "What Hurts the Most." Still, it comes as a surprise that Gokey-who possesses the blue-eyed-soul voice of a Michael Bolton or a Michael McDonald- would go country on his debut album. The genre is just not a natural fit for him as it's been for other Idol alums like Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler. But a good singer is a good singer, and Gokey remains one despite sounding like a stranger in Nashville.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "I Will Not Say Goodbye," a defiant refusal to let go

Keke Wyatt

Who Knew? |

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R&B

The best song on Keke Wyatt's new CD is "Peace on Earth," a remake of a tune by another soul sister, Rachelle Ferrell. The stripped-down setting, with gentle acoustic guitar strumming in the background, lays bare the raw emotion in Wyatt's voice as she calls for peace in the home. The rest of Who Knew? offers few surprises, but it's a solid set of R&B for grown folks.

FOR DOWNLOAD PICKS INFO, GO TO PEOPLE.COM/DOWNLOADTHIS

>• Inspired by Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, this CD features new tracks by acts like Avril Lavigne (right), the All-American Rejects and Robert Smith, who puts a spooky spin on "Very Good Advice" from the 1951 animated film.

>NICK CURRAN AND THE LOWLIFES

Reform School Girl

There's a little bit of Chuck Berry, B.B. King and Little Richard in this badass blues-rocker. Highlights include the retro-'50s title tune.

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BLAKE SHELTON

Hillbilly Bone

Like a six-pack, this EP featuring a half-dozen songs (including the hit title track with Trace Adkins) will give you a good buzz, but that's it.

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MEAGHAN SMITH

The Cricket's Orchestra

Smith's full-length debut evokes old songbirds like Doris Day and Peggy Lee and modern-day ones such as Norah Jones and Nellie McKay.

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EASTON CORBIN

Easton Corbin

At times on his country debut, this Florida native sounds like the second coming of George Strait with his neo-traditional tunes.

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>KELIS brings her milkshake back with "Acapella," a frenetic techno groove from her forthcoming disc Flesh Tone. $1.29 at iTunes.com.

TONI BRAXTON gets the blood pumping with "Make My Heart," a dance-floor jam from her upcoming album Pulse. $1.29 at rhapsody.com.

THE SCRIPT mixes rock and soul on "Breakeven," from the Irish trio's self-titled debut CD. $1.29 at amazon.com.

>• The uber-producer, 47, shares memories of making Johnny Cash's last album, American VI: Ain't No Grave.

ON RELEASING AMERICAN VI ON WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN CASH'S 78TH BIRTHDAY (FEB. 26)

The idea came when we were looking for the cover image-it's Johnny as a child. We thought of the album almost like a rebirth. It feels like he's the phoenix rising from the ashes of the past-a voice coming from the other side. Because he's been gone for a while, it's like an unexpected gift.

ON THE INSPIRATION FOR THE ALBUM

After June Carter Cash passed away [four months before him in 2003], his whole reason to live was to continue recording and sharing songs. That was his purpose, his mission.

ON FIRST MEETING CASH IN 1993

He was performing in a dinner theater in Orange County [Calif.]. I don't think we said that much. We quietly felt each other's energy, and it felt good. We're both serious and spiritual. We hit it off.

ON HOW CASH LIVES IN HIM

I've spent more time praying [because of] my relationship with him than I did before. At his home there was always a prayer before dinner. I still pray before every meal.

>• Inspired by Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, this CD features new tracks by acts like Avril Lavigne (right), the All-American Rejects and Robert Smith, who puts a spooky spin on "Very Good Advice" from the 1951 animated film.

>NICK CURRAN AND THE LOWLIFES

Reform School Girl

There's a little bit of Chuck Berry, B.B. King and Little Richard in this badass blues-rocker. Highlights include the retro-'50s title tune. [

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]

BLAKE SHELTON

Hillbilly Bone

Like a six-pack, this EP featuring a half-dozen songs (including the hit title track with Trace Adkins) will give you a good buzz, but that's it. [

bgwhite bgwhite   

]

MEAGHAN SMITH

The Cricket's Orchestra

Smith's full-length debut evokes old songbirds like Doris Day and Peggy Lee and modern-day ones such as Norah Jones and Nellie McKay. [

bgwhite bgwhite bgwhite  

]

EASTON CORBIN

Easton Corbin

At times on his country debut, this Florida native sounds like the second coming of George Strait with his neo-traditional tunes. [

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]

>KELIS brings her milkshake back with "Acapella," a frenetic techno groove from her forthcoming disc Flesh Tone. $1.29 at iTunes.com.

TONI BRAXTON gets the blood pumping with "Make My Heart," a dance-floor jam from her upcoming album Pulse. $1.29 at rhapsody.com.

THE SCRIPT mixes rock and soul on "Breakeven," from the Irish trio's self-titled debut CD. $1.29 at amazon.com.

>• The über-producer, 47, shares memories of making Johnny Cash's last album, American VI: Ain't No Grave.

ON RELEASING AMERICAN VI ON WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN CASH'S 78TH BIRTHDAY (FEB. 26)

The idea came when we were looking for the cover image—it's Johnny as a child. We thought of the album almost like a rebirth. It feels like he's the phoenix rising from the ashes of the past—a voice coming from the other side. Because he's been gone for a while, it's like an unexpected gift.

ON THE INSPIRATION FOR THE ALBUM

After June Carter Cash passed away [four months before him in 2003], his whole reason to live was to continue recording and sharing songs. That was his purpose, his mission.

ON FIRST MEETING CASH IN 1993

He was performing in a dinner theater in Orange County [Calif.]. I don't think we said that much. We quietly felt each other's energy, and it felt good. We're both serious and spiritual. We hit it off.

ON HOW CASH LIVES IN HIM

I've spent more time praying [because of] my relationship with him than I did before. At his home there was always a prayer before dinner. I still pray before every meal.