Fantasia

Back to Me |

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R&B

"No more crying, going through hell/ It's all good, I'm loving myself," sings Fantasia Barrino on "I'm Doin' Me," the opening track of her third-and best-album. Those self-empowering lyrics were sung before the 2004 American Idol attempted suicide last month. Having survived this latest personal drama, hopefully now she can actually live those words. But the pain that Fantasia has been through adds a layer of real grit to everything she does. You can hear it on old-schoolish songs like the R&B hit "Bittersweet," an aptly titled ballad on which she digs deep with raspy-voiced emotion. Fantasia saves her best for last, though, on "I'm Here," a number from The Color Purple musical she starred in on Broadway. With this kind of gospel-charged transcendence, she could bring anyone back from the brink.

Goo Goo Dolls

Something for the Rest of Us |

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POP-ROCK

The Goo Goo Dolls gave up trying to be hip a long time ago. Instead, on their ninth studio album, the threesome makes serviceable pop-rock for the masses, with VH1-ready tracks like the driving opener "Sweetest Lie," the U2-lite "As I Am" and the first single "Home." Despite solid songwriting and musicianship, though, the generic quality wears thin in the second half. It doesn't help that bassist Robby Takac takes the lead from frontman John Rzeznik on two tunes that are something to forget.

Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses

Junky Star |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

ALT-COUNTRY

Most musicians might expect to win a Grammy before an Oscar, but it didn't work that way for Ryan Bingham. The rootsy singer-songwriter picked up an Academy Award last March for penning "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" with T Bone Burnett. The spirit of that haunting ballad is alive on Junky Star, Bingham's stellar third album. With Burnett back as producer, this is rich alt-country terrain. While there are shades of that other Ryan-Adams-the gravelly-voiced Bingham is more of a cross between Bob Dylan and Nebraska-style Bruce Springsteen, making tracks like the harmonica-spiked "The Wandering" and the evocative title tune truly addictive.

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JENNY AND JOHNNY

I'm Having Fun Now

You can tell just how much fun singing sweethearts Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice were having making this batch of harmony-sweetened guitar pop that outdoes She & Him.

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HEART

Red Velvet Car

As far as comebacks go, the first studio album in six years from the Wilson sisters is underwhelming. You're better off dusting off your old vinyl of Bad Animals.

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BROTHER CLYDE

Brother Clyde

If they gave Razzies for albums, one would surely go to Billy Ray Cyrus' new rock band. Son Trace tries to help, but Miley smartly avoids this mess.

    



PHILIP SELWAY

Familial

Radiohead's drummer steps up with a dreamy solo debut that shows he's learned a few things from Thom Yorke. Indeed, this beats Yorke's solo The Eraser.

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John Legend, the Roots, Common and Melanie Fiona team up for this rousing Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes remake. It's from the Legend-Roots album Wake Up!, due Sept. 21.

MY COUNTRY: SMASH HITS

In addition to the tunes by Reba McEntire (top), Keith Urban (bottom) and Lady Antebellum, this country collection will give you another reason to feel good: It benefits the Fisher House Foundation, which provides support for military members.

Chuck Arnold picks his faves for the Video Music Awards, airing Sept. 12 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV

VIDEO OF THE YEAR

30 Seconds to Mars "Kings and Queens"

B.o.B featuring Hayley Williams "Airplanes"

Eminem "Not Afraid"

Florence + the Machine "Dog Days Are Over"

Lady Gaga "Bad Romance"

Lady Gaga featuring Beyonce "Telephone"

The only way Gaga could top herself? Bring on B!

BEST MALE VIDEO

B.o.B featuring Hayley Williams "Airplanes"

Drake "Find Your Love"

Eminem "Not Afraid"

Jason Derulo "In My Head"

Usher featuring will.i.am "OMG"

With his cinematic clip, youngblood Drake edges out the resurgent Em.

BEST FEMALE VIDEO

Beyonce featuring Lady Gaga "Video Phone"

Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg "California Gurls"

Ke$ha "TiK ToK"

Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance"

Taylor Swift "Fifteen"

Gaga's is the big monster here. Better be no Taylor madness this time.

BEST ROCK VIDEO

30 Seconds to Mars "Kings and Queens"

Florence + the Machine "Dog Days Are Over"

MGMT "Flash Delirium"

Muse "Uprising"

Paramore "Ignorance"

Flo rules with a vision of girl groups, tribal drummers and gospel choirs.

These tunes will ease you from hitting the beach to the books.

GWEN STEFANI "HOLLABACK GIRL"

For getting back in that cheerleading spirit. Get your pom poms up!

JANET JACKSON "THE KNOWLEDGE"

This Rhythm Nation banger could serve as a PSA for education.

THE JACKSON 5 "ABC"

Unleashes your inner kindergartner as only little Michael can.

THE SMITHS "THE HEADMASTER RITUAL"

A twisted school tale from the dynamic duo of Morrissey and Marr.

TAYLOR SWIFT "FIFTEEN"

Captures the sweet innocence of starting your freshman year.

VAN HALEN "HOT FOR TEACHER"

Student-teacher lust, part 1.

THE POLICE "DON'T STAND SO CLOSE TO ME"

Student-teacher lust, part 2.

PINK FLOYD "ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL (PT. II)"

The ultimate student rebellion.