Previewing new albums from Jennifer Lopez, Tim McGraw, Busta Rhymes, Paul McCartney, and more.

'Then' And Now

PamWith all the pre-release secrecy befitting an international superstar, Jennifer Lopez is putting her music back on the front burner with the Epic album "This Is Me... Then." The 12-track set is led by the single "Jenny From the Block" featuring Jadakiss and Styles, which is No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 5 on Billboard's Top 40 Tracks chart this week.

Lopez's collaboration with Ja Rule, "I'm Real," was one of the highlights of her 2001 triple-platinum set "J. Lo." But aside from LL Cool J's turn on the track "All I Have," the new album is largely a guest-free affair. Lopez was aided in the studio by her stable of long-time collaborators and producers, including Corey Rooner, Dan Shea, and Troy Oliver. The song "Dear Ben" references Lopez's relationship with actor Ben Affleck, to whom she recently became engaged.

The artist is also gearing up for the release of her next film, "Maid in Manhattan," which hits U.S. theaters on Dec. 13. Lopez and Affleck are set to appear together in the films "Jersey Girl" and "Gigli."





'Doctor' In The House

PamIt's a testament to his stature as an artist that Tim McGraw was able to buck country music protocol and use his own band to record the new album "Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors," due this week from Curb. Nashville's famed Music Row is home to some of the world's best session musicians, and the standard mode of operation for country artists is to record with those players, then have a touring band recreate their licks on the road.

But McGraw opted for something different. "There's a whole lot of feeling on this record," he says. "The guys really have an honest way of playing it and brought out a real honesty in the way I sing. You are always looking for a way to not think about it and just to sing -- that's what you try to do as an artist. On this record I did 15 or 16 vocals in four days because it was so easy to go in there and sing to these tracks. I felt so able to just open my mouth and sing."

In addition to the Dancehall Doctors, McGraw has some impressive guests on the new project, including husky-voiced chanteuse Kim Carnes joins him on "Comfort Me" and a cover of the Elton John hit "Tiny Dancer." Two of McGraw's heroes -- Eagles' Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit -- contribute vocals to "Illegal." "It turned out great," McGraw says. "We wanted that kind of song on this album, and then to hear it back and hear them on it, it really did sound like an Eagles record."

First single "Red Rag Top" stirred controversy because of its reference to abortion. McGraw says he did not anticipate resistance at radio because the song, written by Jason White, "doesn't get on a soapbox issue in any way. I don't think the song compromises your beliefs or compromises your integrity on how you feel either way on the subject. I'm a storyteller, and I'm just telling a story. It's an honest story."





'Safe' Tonight

PamComing off the platinum-plus success of 2001's "Genesis," his J Records debut, Busta Rhymes wasted little time getting back in the studio to record "It Ain't Safe No More," due this week. The rapper began production on the set following his stint on this summer's Area2 tour with Moby and David Bowie.

"It didn't influence the direction of the music, but it did influence my outlook on how many motherf***ers that I'm not getting a chance to reach because I'm not their kind of an artist," Rhymes says of the tour. "I don't [usually] get those platforms to perform and promote what I'm doing. So when I went out there, I felt like I had never had an album out before."

With that in mind, Rhymes has even higher hopes and expectations for "It Ain't Safe No More," which is led by the single "Make It Clap." He admits, "I love this album in a way that I haven't loved an album in a long time. With the comfort of knowing that I'm back in a good place in the market, I feel like this time we can really put the nail in the coffin and kill this sh*t and in an overwhelming way supercede everything that I've accomplished in my career."





Macca's Back

PamPaul McCartney wrapped his 50-date North American arena tour Oct. 29 at America West Arena in Phoenix, having grossed about $100 million, and left a trail of house records in his wake. A critical and financial winner, the tour will likely end up the top-grossing trek of 2002, averaging about $2 million per night. "Nobody goes out [on tour] to lose money, but the main thing is the audiences are having fun," McCartney says. "In some ways, [the response] has reminded me of the early Beatles tours."

The trek is chronicled on the double-CD/DVD "Back in the U.S.," due this week from Capitol. McCartney, backed by Paul "Wix" Wickens on keyboards, guitarist Rusty Anderson, guitarist/bassist Brian Ray, and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., trots out favorites from all areas of his storied career. Highlights include a spirited rendition of the early Beatles hit "I Saw Her Standing There," the Wings chestnuts "Live and Let Die" and "Jet," and stripped-down takes on "Blackbird," "We Can Work It Out," and "Fool on the Hill."

"The thing with the Beatles was that we were all just kids and had never done it before," McCartney says. "At Shea Stadium [in New York in 1965], we were playing through the baseball PA system. We're a little more at home now; this band is a great live band, and I'm surprised I still love doing this as much as I do."





Additional titles hitting stores this week include:

-- The first album in three years from hip-hop outfit the Roots, "Phrenology" (MCA).

-- A collection of previously unreleased material from modern rock act System Of A Down, "Steal This Album" (American).

-- Canadian rock group Sum 41's sophomore Island set, "Does This Look Infected?"

-- New albums from veteran R&B act K-Ci & JoJo ("Emotional," MCA) and Dru Hill ("Dru World Order," Def Soul).

-- The latest set from rappers Snoop Dogg ("Paid tha Coast To Be da Boss," Priority) and Royce Da 5'9" ("Rock City," Game/Koch), and the sixth posthumous collection from Tupac Shakur ("Better Dayz," Interscope).

-- The debut album from Ozzy Osbourne's daughter Kelly, "Shut Up" (Epic).

-- Singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur's third solo album, "Redemption's Son" (Enjoy/Universal).

-- R&B vocalist Syleena Johnson's "Chapter II: The Voice" (J).

-- The North American release of veteran U.K. psychedelic rock outfit Primal Scream's "Evil Heat" (Epic).

-- The fifth volume in Bob Dylan's "Bootleg Series," "Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Review," featuring a limited edition DVD (Columbia/Legacy).

-- A five-disc collection from late singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley, "The Grace EPs" (Columbia).

-- The soundtrack from the animated film "The Wild Thornberrys" (Nick/Jive), with tracks from Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, P. Diddy & Brandy featuring Bow Wow, and Angelique Kidjo featuring Dave Matthews.

-- Rapper Baby AKA the #1 Stunna's "Birdman," featuring a guest turn from P. Diddy (Universal).

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