As the last of the summer festivals move the masses one more time before the weather turns and the bright, inescapable hits of the summer become nostalgia for the season passed, it's time to put on a sweater and head back to campus armed with Billboard's chronological crib sheet of the ten hottest albums of the coming semester. Think that another record out this September or October will be hotter and should have been on this list? Comment away!
"I Look To You"
Arista/RCA Music Group
Release Date: Aug. 31
Listen To Some of The Album By Launching Player At Left
The imminent release of Whitney Houston's "I Look to You" (her first studio album in seven years) keeps prompting the elephant-in-the-room question: How does she sound? Well, Houston turns in a solid performance on this 11-track set. And it underscores her still-considerable gift for delivering the emotion in a song, which is especially showcased on the title track/lead single. While Houston may not top her iconic performance of "I Will Always Love You," she more than holds her own on this R. Kelly-penned ballad about finding strength in the face of adversity. She gets her party swerve going on the album's standout cut about appreciating a significant other, "Million Dollar Bill," produced by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz. Another keeper is the midtempo, relationship-themed "Like I Never Left" featuring Akon. Primarily comprising up- and midtempo selections-including an amped-up cover of Leon Russell's "A Song for You"-"I Look to You" finds Houston channeling the self-assured singer she exhibited on 1998's "My Love Is Your Love." The set is a nice welcome back and a new beginning for the singer. --Gail Mitchell
"Got a blank space where my mind should be/Got a Cliff Bar and some cold green tea," Phish frontman Trey Anastasio sings on "Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan," the second track on the band's ebullient new album, "Joy." Phish masterfully marries freedom and form on its first studio release since 2004's "Undermind," combining the best elements of its jazz-inspired outings with an acute attention to song structure. The result is a collection that succeeds on multiple fronts, and one sure to please both the avid fan and casual listener. With strong production by studio titan Steve Lillywhite, the band effortlessly switches between jangle (the sentimental, Allman Brothers-esque "Backwards Down the Number Line") and jam (the nearly 14-minute, early-Pat Metheny Group-sounding "Time Turns Elastic"). And on the title track, Anastasio pays moving tribute to a sister lost too soon. "Joy" is a journey not to be missed. --Jon Regen
Above: Phish's "Time Turns Elastic."
"The Blueprint 3"
Release Date: Sept. 11
On the eighth anniversary of the release of the first "Blueprint" album, Jay-Z will release his 11th studio album, "Blueprint 3," on his new venture between his own Roc Nation label and Atlantic Records. Although details are scant, Jay-Z says the album was produced by Kanye West and himself, with added production from Timbaland and No I.D. It will have 15 tracks, and, unlike 2001's more soulful "The Blueprint," the new effort will have a more classic sound. "The people of my generation like the Ushers and the Kanyes and the Justin Timberlakes are becoming all those artists that we looked up to-the Marvin Gayes and the Sinatras," he says. "The music is new and fresh, but I approached it in a classic sense." While it is too early to say who will make the final cut, Jay says he has collaborated with MGMT, Kid Cudi, Drake, Rihanna and Mr. Hudson.
Above: Jay-Z's "Run This Town."