Previewing new albums from Justin Timberlake, Johnny Cash, U2, David Gray, Bjork, and more.
'Justify' My Love
'N Sync's Justin Timberlake says his Jive solo debut, "Justified," was written and recorded in a six-week creative spurt that was reminiscent of "that period of time back in the 1960s and '70s when musicians got together and just jammed and worked out of inspiration. There was no heavy calculation or belaboring songs and mixes. Everything flowed pretty easily and naturally."
The artist divided his time between collaborating with hip-hop luminaries Timbaland and the Neptunes. The latter team helmed the recent top-10 hit "Girlfriend" from 'N Sync's 2001 opus, "Celebrity." The end result is a collection of well-drawn, R&B-leaning songs that are notable for their decidedly earthy, often retro tone -- a sharp, mature shift from 'N Sync's more glossy teen-pop output.
"I wasn't consciously trying to make a non-'N Sync record," he says. "I was trying to make a multi-dimensional record; a record that captured the vibe of my favorite time in music, the '60s. For the six weeks that we worked on these songs, I got to live in my own musical dream world and play a little hip-hop, a little old-school R&B, a little classic rock. It was so much fun -- and I learned a lot about making music in a totally different way than I was used to." First single "Like I Love You" is No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week.
'Around' The Bend
Along with being treated to a slew of vault material and a pair of tribute records this year, Johnny Cash fans will be given yet another reason to smile this week, when the Man In Black's fourth collaboration with producer Rick Rubin arrives via American Recordings/Island Def Jam. The 15-track "American IV: The Man Comes Around" features such guests as Nick Cave, Fiona Apple, and Don Henley, and sees Cash cover songs by such diverse artists as the Beatles, Depeche Mode, Hank Williams, Nine Inch Nails, the Eagles, Sting, and Simon & Garfunkel.
Cash also reworks his classic 1957 Sun Records single "Give My Love to Rose" (which also appeared on his 1964 CBS album "I Walk the Line"), and his "Tear Stained Letter," from his 1972 CBS set "A Thing Called Love." Henley joins Cash for a cover of his Eagles classic "Desperado," while Cave and Apple add vocals to Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," respectively. One of the most peculiar selections is a reworking of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt," of which Cash says, "When I first heard the song, I thought, 'That's something I might have written in the '60s, if I had been that good a writer.'"
Cash, who suffers from diabetic neuropathy -- a disease of the nervous system that leaves its victims susceptible to pneumonia -- has played in public only a handful of times since slipping into a diabetes-related coma in 1997. But the artist says he is feeling so good at the moment that he's already begun working on his next album at his rural Nashville home. "I would be satisfied, so far as accomplishments, if it all ended now," he says. "But, boy, I sure wish I could live another few years and take it one, two, three years at a time, and do some more things like these records. That's what I really wanna do -- some more of these records."
'Best' Of The Best
"We were struggling with having to leave off things that we really would have wanted to include," says the Edge of U2's "The Best of 1990-2000" (Interscope). The 16-track "1990-2000" disc includes such well known U2 songs as "Even Better Than the Real Thing," "Mysterious Ways," and last year's smash, "Beautiful Day." Four songs -- "Discotheque," "Gone," "Numb," and "Staring at the Sun" -- appear as "substantially reworked" versions courtesy of producer Mike Hedges.
"It was kind of a complicated task to whittle it down to these songs, but it was also a really nice feeling to know that there was a lot of competition," guitarist the Edge says. "It wasn't the case of having the scrape the barrel to make this collection stack up. It really was the opposite. We were struggling with having to leave off things that we really would have wanted to include."
The set sports two new songs -- "Electrical Storm" and "The Hands That Built America," the latter of which will appear on the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's long-anticipated "Gangs of New York." A limited edition bonus disc of 14 B-sides and a DVD will also be included, featuring such songs as "Summer Rain" and "Your Blue Room," as well as remixes of U2 tracks by the likes of Paul Oakenfold and Alan Moulder. The bonus DVD will boast exclusive content, including the "History Mix of U2 in the '90s."
On his commercial breakthrough recording, "White Ladder," David Gray proved the value of harnessing songcraft to personal resilience. The Manchester, England-born singer/songwriter had spent 10 years recording -- first for Hut then EMI -- to little sales effect before striking pay dirt with album No. 4 on his own independent IHT Records. Since its release in 1998, "White Ladder" has shifted 2.5 million units in the U.K., according to his label, and 1.85 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The follow-up, "A New Day at Midnight" (IHT/East West), arrives this week via ATO/RCA. Says Gray of the set, "I didn't set out to make any kind of record. There were a couple of songs that I wrote on the new record that were flagship moments. 'Freedom' was one. Once that was done, it had a certain weight and any stupid throwaway moment next to it was going to sound wrong. There's a seriousness to most of it, but it wasn't something that I sat down and thought about. It was never going to be 'White Ladder II.' I don't think it's as effortlessly immediate, but I don't think it's elusive; there's plenty of big melodies."
Gray will kick off a brief North American tour Jan. 26 in Detroit. The trek will visit 14 cities before wrapping Feb. 16 in Los Angeles, and follows a November/December tour of the U.K. and Ireland, and comes prior to a full European tour.
A very pregnant Bjork says she never listens to her old recordings. "I prefer to move on. For me, it's always been about looking ahead, the future, the new, and the unexpected," she reveals. But with the simultaneous One Little Indian/Elektra releases this week of Bjork's "Greatest Hits" and the six-disc boxed set "Family Tree," Bjork has had to look back. She's had to step back in time and revisit the numerous songs that have defined who she is as an artist.
"Family Tree" comprises six CDs (five 3-inch and one 5-inch discs) of the artist's favorite songs, many of which were previously unreleased. The tracks, Bjork says, are from "my entire career," not just her solo career. To compile it, the artist spent six months digging through her archives. While it didn't feel like hard work at the time, Bjork admits, "it was hard work listening to my old recordings, kind of like doing homework."
Conversely, the "hits" featured on Bjork's "Greatest Hits" were selected by fans who voted for their favorite Bjork songs at Bjork.com as well as at Getmusic.com. The disc, which culls moments from her four solo albums ("Debut," "Post," "Homogenic," and "Vespertine"), is home to gems like "Hyperballad," "Venus as a Boy," and "Hidden Place." It also includes one new song -- "It's in Our Hands," produced by Bjork and Matmos -- that the singer previewed during last year's Vespertine tour.
Additional titles hitting stores this week include:
-- A new album from U.K. singer/songwriter Damon Gough under the Badly Drawn Boy Moniker, "Have You Fed the Fish?" (ArtistDirect).
-- A collaborative album of songs associated with Louis Armstrong by Tony Bennett and k.d. lang, "A Wonderful World" (RPM/Columbia).
-- New albums from R&B artists Jaheim ("Still Ghetto," Divine Mill/Warner Bros.); Deborah Cox ("The Morning After," J); and Ms. Jade ("Girl Interrupted," Interscope).
-- Country trio Trick Pony's "On a Mission," featuring a guest spot from Willie Nelson (Warner Bros.).
-- The latest album from rock outfit the Wallflowers, "Red Letter Days" (Interscope).
-- Live albums from such artists as Dave Matthews Band ("Live at Folsom Field," RCA); Eric Clapton ("One More Car, One More Rider," Reprise/Duck); Willie Nelson ("Stars & Guitars," Lost Highway); and Alison Krauss & Union Station ("Live," Rounder).
-- Country star Alan Jackson's "Let It Be Christmas" (Arista Nashville).
-- A double-disc set of standup comedy from "Mr. Show" star David Cross, "Shut Up, You F***ing Baby" (Sub Pop).
-- A new studio album from '70s rock heavyweights Boston, "Corporate America" (Artemis).
-- New sets from modern rock acts Ours ("Precious," DreamWorks) and Trapt ("Trapt," Warner Bros.).
-- A retrospective from U.K. rock combo Ride, "OX4 -- Best Of" (The First Time).
-- Rap act Insane Clown Posse's "The Wraith: Shangri-La" (Psychopathic).
-- Italian vocalist Laura Pausini's "From the Inside" (Atlantic).
-- A new album from drum'n'bass veteran Roni Size, "Touching Down" (Full Cycle).
-- The benefit set "For the Kids" (Nettwerk), featuring tracks from Ivy, Sarah McLachlan, Tom Waits, and Barenaked Ladies.
-- A mix CD compiled by New Order, "Back to Mine" (DMC).
-- Jon Brion's soundtrack to the film "Punch-Drunk Love" (Nonesuch).