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Previewing new albums from Ja Rule, matchbox twenty, Audioslave, Toni Braxton, and more.

Don't Tempt Me, Sir!

PamWill Smith may be "Mr. July," but this month fellow rapper/actor Ja Rule may be dubbed "Mr. November." With the Nov. 19 release of his fourth Murder Inc./Def Jam set, "The Last Temptation," and the Nov. 15 debut of his first starring role in Sony Pictures' "Half Past Dead," Rule could follow in the footsteps of collaborator Jennifer Lopez and become the second musician/actor to top the charts and the box office in the same week.

First single "Thug Lovin'" features Bobby Brown and is No. 15 on Billboard's Hot Rap Tracks tally this week. Ironically, the idea for the single came from Brown's own film career. "I was sitting at home watching 'A Thin Line Between Love and Hate,' and [Stevie Wonder's 'Knocks Me off My Feet'] comes on," Rule says. "I started getting this idea for a hook, and there on the screen appears my man Bob -- it was perfect!"

Rule's latest solo album, "Pain Is Love," debuted at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 and Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums tally last October.

'Think' About It, Man!

PamMatchbox twenty's "More Than You Think You Are" (Melisma/Atlantic) is led by the single "Disease," which frontman Rob Thomas co-wrote with the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger. "It was one of those things where it was the most I had ever written of a song that I had given to someone," Thomas says of the tune, which originally was set to appear on Jagger's Virgin solo set "Goddess in the Doorway." "It was like, having a song that was basically done, and then giving it to somebody, and going, 'Wait a minute. What did I do with that? That would have been great on a matchbox record!'"

Luckily Jagger liked the sound of Thomas' voice on the song, and decided it didn't fit in with the rest of his album. "At first I thought, 'What's wrong with the song? There must be something wrong with it that I'm not hearing.' But you would hope that he just didn't want to do it [for those reasons that he said.] And, so, I couldn't have been happier, because it's not like I could take it back once I had given it to him."

On much of the rest of "More Than You Think You Are," Thomas shared songwriting duties with other members of his band. "It takes some of the pressure off of me and it takes pressure off the band of being one dimensional," says Thomas, who has co-written songs with Carlos Santana, Willie Nelson, and Marc Anthony, among others. "Which is part of all my outside writing stuff, it's really just to widen myself out as a writer. If I work with a pop guy and a Latin guy and a country guy, and I come back to matchbox, that has expanded my idea of what a song is."


PamIf someone were to draft a how-to manual on forming a rock supergroup, it might behoove them to take note of the lessons learned by Audioslave this year. The in-your-wildest-dreams quartet comprising ex-Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and three-quarters of Rage Against the Machine -- guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford, and drummer Brad Wilk -- could pass along some advice on keeping your demos under wraps (and off the Internet) and preventing outside voices from causing a brief band break-up.

The members of Audioslave have weathered both this year: Cornell left in March only to return a short time later, and what Morello describes as "very incomplete, rough sketches" of 13 songs surfaced on the Web in May. Finally, Audioslave's self-titled Epic debut is ready to roll, led by the single "Cochise," which is No. 6 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

In eight months, Morello says, the Rage guys wrote more songs than they wrote in eight years with their former band. "We're talking about years that we didn't do anything," Commerford seconds. "We just waited to make our next record." As a result, the bassist says he initially found himself doubting the new band and its new material. "It happened so easily that it felt like a cop-out. It was like, 'This is too easy to call this a band this quick."

The 'Woman' In You

PamToni Braxton is pretty much surviving on crackers and soda water these days. Bad case of nerves preparing for her fifth album release? Hardly. It's called "the first trimester." "I should be fine in a few weeks, but right now, this is kicking my behind," Braxton admits of her second pregnancy, following the birth of her son, Denim Cole, last December. "I'm eating like a parrot."

By all indications, however, delivery of her other baby -- the Arista album "More Than a Woman" -- should be much less of an ordeal. The 14-track set ably matches the singer/songwriter's robust, can-do vocal prowess with a host of R&B hitmakers du jour, including the Neptunes, Irv Gotti, and Rodney Jerkins. First single "Hit the Freeway" is No. 12 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.

"Hip-hop is bringing R&B to life again," Braxton observes. "It's allowing a style of singing to have its say. On this project, I think I've been able to remain true to myself, while adding some new beats matched with great R&B melodies. I'm ready to show other sides of what I can do musically."

Additional titles hitting stores this week include:

-- Shania Twain's "Up!" (Mercury) is the follow-up to 1997's 14-times platinum "Come on Over." First single "I'm Gonna Getcha Good!" is No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100.

-- The final studio album from late Beatles guitarist George Harrison, "Brainwashed" (Capitol).

-- The sophomore set from U.K. R&B sensation Craig David, "Slicker Than Your Average" (Wildstar/Atlantic).

-- Black Star principal Talib Kweli's "Quality" (MCA).

-- The 11th installment in the various artists' hits collection "NOW! That's What I Call Music Vol. 11" (UTV).

-- Former EPMD rapper Erick Sermon's "React" (J).

-- A career-spanning collection of collaborations from Barbra Streisand, "Duets" (Columbia).

-- Blues artist Susan Tedeschi's "Wait for Me" (Tone-Cool/Artemis).

-- Theatrical hard rock outfit Mudvayne's "The End of All Things to Come" (Epic).

-- Expanded reissues of Elvis Costello's "Armed Forces," "Mighty Like a Rose," and "Imperial Bedroom" (Rhino).

-- Sample-friendly duo FC Kahuna's "Machine Says Yes" (Nettwerk).

-- Soundtracks to the upcoming films "8 Crazy Nights" (Columbia) and "Friday After Next" (Hollywood).

-- Music DVDs from the likes of Drowning Pool ("Sinema," Wind-Up), Gorillaz ("Phase One: Celebrity Take Down," Virgin), Ben Harper ("Pleasure & Pain," Virgin), Korn ("Live," Epic), and Lenny Kravitz ("Live," Virgin).

-- "Earphoria," a collection of audio clips drawn from the Smashing Pumpkins video collection "Viewphoria" (Virgin).

-- The double-disc dance music collection "The Annual 2003," mixed by DJ Sammy (Ministry of Sound).