Previewing new albums from Whitney Houston, Phish, Common, Alanis Morissette, and more.

'Just' Listen

PamAlthough she reigned throughout the '80s and '90s as one of the most popular vocalists in the world, Whitney Houston faces an uncertain future with the new album "Just Whitney," the first in a reported $100 million deal with longtime label Arista. The artist has been dogged by rumors of drug abuse (in 2000, marijuana was found in her handbag at a Hawaiian airport) and domestic violence in her tumultuous marriage to fellow vocalist Bobby Brown.

But Houston says she is committed to rebuilding her career, which has seen her score 11 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. "I'm not the strongest every day, but I'm not the weakest, either," she told ABC's Diane Sawyer last week. "And I won't break."

The new set got off to a dreadful start this fall, when first single "Whatchulookinat?" fizzled at No. 96 on the Hot 100. Latest track "One of Those Days," which references the Isley Brothers' 1983 hit "Between the Sheets," is faring better and is No. 34 this week on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks tally. "Just Whitney" also features production assistance from Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Babyface, and Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, a duet with Brown on "My Love," and a cover of Debbie Boone's "You Light Up My Life."

Houston tells Billboard she sought to create "a positive, feel-good, very soul-oriented album, something I felt was missing. I hear a lot of things on the radio, but I don't hear any R&B songs with a bold, new flavor ... songs you can sing along to and love the melody. That's what I was looking for."





Bouncing Around The 'Room'

PamThe potency of the creative partnership enjoyed by the four members of Phish is well documented via the group's nine Elektra studio albums and improvisation-heavy live shows. But when the eclectic Vermont combo regrouped in September after a nearly two-year hiatus, the idea of quickly recording a studio album of entirely new material was by no means a certainty.

After working up 22 fresh songs in just short of two weeks of rehearsal at guitarist Trey Anastasio's Vermont studio, the group opted to record the material right then and make a decision about its future at a later date. That later date wound up being only a matter of days, and with its members so enthused with the results, Phish selected 12 of its favorite cuts for "Round Room," due this week from Elektra.

The set is quite unlike any prior Phish studio offering, according to keyboardist Page McConnell. "It's probably the longest single album we have ever made," he says. "Yes, there is more soulfulness, but there is also way more jamming than on any other Phish album. I think it runs the gamut and is kind of like when you see us in concert. We don't just play one long jam after another." Phish returns to the stage Dec. 31 at New York's Madison Square Garden and has shows on tap through March 1. The group also appears Saturday (Dec. 14) on "Saturday Night Live" and Dec. 19 on "The Late Show With David Letterman."





Morning Becomes 'Electric'

PamRapper Common returns this week with "Electric Circus," his first MCA solo album since 2000's top-20 hit "Like Water for Chocolate." The set is led by the single "Come Close to Me" featuring Mary J. Blige, which is No. 49 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart this week. Common is even higher up on that chart at No. 2 thanks to his duet with Erykah Badu, "Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop)."

Badu is among the guest artists on "Electric Circus," which also features contributions from Jill Scott, the Neptunes' Pharrell Williams, Bilal, Cee-Lo, P.O.D. frontman Sonny, Stereolab vocalist Laetitia Sadier, and Prince, who plays guitar on "Star *69 (PS With Love)."

"I love to work with people I really admire and get inspired by," Common says. "The artists I chose are people who not only inspire me but they mean something to the world. From the Neptunes changing the face of modern music to Cee-Lo bringing the message, to Stereolab bringing free music that is unrestricted, to Prince, who has been both a genius and a revolutionary at what he's done. All those people are people I honor and respect. They're all touching this earth with something special."





Moveable 'Feast'

PamFresh off the tour supporting her March release "Under Rug Swept," Alanis Morissette has compiled "Feast on Scraps," a combined CD-and-DVD package from Maverick featuring a live concert video and a selection of unreleased recordings from the "Under Rug Swept" sessions.

The DVD comprises a concert recorded Aug. 13 in Rotterdam, Holland, featuring tunes from throughout Morissette's career, including "Ironic," "Thank U," "You Oughta Know," "Hand in My Pocket," and "21 Things I Want in a Lover." It also includes a bounty of backstage and behind-the-scenes footage following the artist through the writing and recording of "Under Rug Swept" and its ensuing tour.

The bonus CD included in "Feast on Scraps" will include eight songs that were recorded in the "Under Rug Swept" sessions, including "Sister Blister" and "Sorry to Myself," which were both included as bonus tracks on the Japanese version of the album. Further, the bonus disc will also include an acoustic version of the album's single "Hands Clean." "I just could not face the idea of letting all of these songs go," Morissette says. "They're all precious to me. It's just a matter of finding the right framework in which to share them with the world."





Additional titles hitting stores this week include:

-- A collection of hits and unreleased material from the late R&B vocalist Aaliyah, "I Care 4 U" (Blackground/Universal).

-- The sophomore album from R&B boy band B2K, "Pandemonium!" (Epic).

-- Wu-Tang Clan principal GZA's "The Legend of the Liquid Sword" (MCA).

-- Producer Swizz Beatz's debut artist album, "Presents G.H.E.T.T.O. Stories" (DreamWorks).

-- Russian pop duo T.A.T.U.'s "200 km/hr in the Wrong Lane" (Interscope).

-- Rap outfit 504 Boyz's "Ballers" (New No Limit).

-- The soundtracks to "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" (Reprise), "The Hours" (Nonesuch), and "Drumline" (Jive).

-- A four-disc box set celebrating glam rock outfit Roxy Music, "The Thrill of It All" (Virgin).

-- The various artists album "Hidden Beach Unwrapped Vol. 2" (Hidden Beach/Epic), featuring new recordings of such hip-hop/R&B favorites as "Always on Time" and "Hot in Herre."

-- Columbia/Legacy's three-disc collection "Freedom: Songs From the Heart of America."