Previewing new albums from Nelly, Will Smith, Shedaisy, Sonic Youth, and more.
As music fans can be fickle, artists often have to walk a tightrope of sorts, maintaining a balance between presence in the marketplace and overexposure. Nelly seems to have become a pro at this. On "Nellyville," due this week from Fo' Reel/Universal, the St. Louis native looks set to reap the benefits of his hard work. The curiously spelled first single "Hot in Herre" has already risen to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
"I tried to be careful of being overexposed, but you also don't want people to forget you and the things you can do," says Nelly. "That's why the things that we did were universal. It wasn't just about having the No. 1 song, we also worked with 'N Sync and Jagged Edge. It wasn't just constantly picking out songs, but taking my time and trying to decide which songs were right for me. I could probably have been out every other week with something new, but I just tried to do things that were not only beneficial but that would set me up right and keep me going. You don't get to sell 9 million albums without touching a part of the audience you never thought you'd touch before."
Nelly's side project, St. Lunatics, is featured throughout the 18-track set. The group reteams to pay homage to classic sneakers with "Air Force Ones." "That's the law, right there in 48 out of 50 states," Nelly says with a laugh. "You can't go wrong with those on, no matter what. Rich, poor, whatever, those Air Force Ones rock. We just had to send love out." Other guest appearances include 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake, Toya, and Destiny's Child's Kelly Rowland, who appears on potential single "Dilemma."
The title track of rapper/actor Will Smith's "Born To Reign," due this week from Columbia, lectures the rap community on his choice of the path of righteousness vs. the perils of the thug life lyrics and lifestyles that have become commonplace in music. But most of the 14-track set takes a lighter pop tone on such tracks as the Latin-leaning dance-fever number "I Can't Stop (which samples the Gypsy Kings' "R Tu Vera"), the island-tinged "I Gotta Go Home," and "How Da Beat Goes," reminiscent of one of Smith's prior hit singles "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It."
First single "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)" featuring Tra-Knox peaked at No. 23 on Billboard's Top 40 Mainstream chart and No. 34 on the Top 40 Tracks tally. The cut, based on and featured in Smith's sure-fire summer blockbuster, "Men in Black II," is also represented as a remix that features Christina Vidal. Also starring Tommy Lee Jones, "Men In Black II" opens July 3 in U.S. theaters.
Aside from the Gypsy Kings' track, "Born To Reign" also samples electronic pioneers Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" and the Persuaders' "Love Gonna Pack Up (And Walk Out). Elsewhere, the set includes "interpolations" of Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much," Newcleus' "Jam on It," Mason Williams' "Classical Gas," Sly & the Family Stone's "Family Affair," and Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock' "It Takes Two."
'Sky' Is Falling
Rarely has an act generated a more polarized response from fans and industry pundits than Shedaisy. After selling more than 1.7 million copies of its 1999 Lyric Street debut, "The Whole Shebang," the trio struck a chord with country consumers, but many critics have been less than kind.
With their new release, "Knock on the Sky," sisters Kristyn, Kassidy, and Kelsi Osborn are hoping not only for strong sales but also a little respect. The sisters expanded their involvement in the creative process, co-producing the record with Dann Huff. "Musically, we became much more intelligent when it came to being in the studio and knowing what we want," Kristyn says. "Critically, people have been a little bit more open to it than they were [with] the first one, and we hope our fans are just as responsive, because they made the first album so successful."
The album is lyrically meatier than its predecessors. The beautiful ballad "Rush," written by Osborn and Marcus Hummon, was featured in Hummon's play "Warrior" about the life of Olympic legend Jim Thorpe. There are also lighter moments, such as the catty, tongue-in-cheek "Everybody Wants You," written about an artist Osborn declines to name. There's also "Repent," which finds the sisters delivering a high-energy song with unique lyrics.
Sonic Youth's new DGC/Interscope album, "Murray Street," is named after the location of the veteran underground rock outfit's downtown New York recording studio. Murray Street also happens to be a literal stone's throw from the former site of the World Trade Center -- an engine from one of the planes that hit the towers landed in the middle of the road on that horrific September morning last year.
The band had already written all of the material that eventually wound up on the album, but guitarist Thurston Moore admits the disaster outside the studio door was an intangible force to be reckoned with once it came time to record. "We really didn't get to look at the studio until a few weeks later," he says, noting that a 16-man decontamination crew had to be called in to restore the equipment to working order. "Eventually there was a certain desire to reclaim our workspace in the face of this neighborhood being destroyed. Our mood in approaching this record and actually executing it was certainly different than what it would have been prior."
In the face of such intense working conditions, Sonic Youth nevertheless emerged with an album that largely shies away from the more anarchic, confrontational aspects of its sound. Instead, songs such as "Rain on Tin," "Disconnection Notice," and "The Empty Page" turn back the clock to the blissful, often smile-worthy strains of such seminal albums as 1988's "Daydream Nation." It's a final product Moore happily describes as "a really cool rock'n'roll record." A North American tour begins Aug. 11 in Dallas.
Fatboy Slim has become a household name for stateside listeners with a taste for electronic music. But there are no bigger fans than those in his hometown of Brighton, England. Those followers were given a tasty treat last July, when Slim (aka Norman Cook) gave them a free show on the beach at Brighton. That event has been pressed into a keepsake CD, "Live on Brighton Beach," due this week from Ministry of Sound Records/MCA and the artist's own Southern Fried Records.
The night was truly a party of human diversity -- a sea of smiling faces as far as the eye could see. "As a DJ, it was the best night of my life. It looked so beautiful, with the fireworks and the lights on the pier," Cook recalls. "I was petrified before I went on. But with the roar of the crowd, even if things went wrong, I knew they'd be there with me."
"Live on Brighton Beach" features such Cook classics as "Right Here, Right Now" and "Star 69," but many of the more recognizable songs spun during the two-hour event were left off the disc to make room for a few new Cook/Fatboy tricks. Thrown into the mix are fun surprises by such artists as Hall & Oates and Salt 'N Pepa. The live atmosphere of this captivating album is boosted by the screaming and roaring crowds, spliced in and edited out at appropriate moments.
Additional titles hitting stores this week include:
-- Singer/songwriter Rosey's debut album, "Dirty Child" (Island).
-- An album from rapper Noreaga's N.O.R.E. project, "God's Favorite" (Def Jam), with production by the Neptunes and Swizz Beats and guest shots from Ja Rule and Capone.
-- Rapper/Shaggy protege Rayvon's "My Bad" (MCA).
-- A concert souvenir from Ozzy Osbourne, "Live at Budokan" (Epic).
-- The self-titled Elektra debut from Vida Blue, featuring members of Phish, the Allman Brothers Band, and the Funky Meters.
-- U.K. rock act Ash's "Free All Angels" (Kinetic).
-- Pianist/songwriter Bruce Hornsby's wildly eclectic "Big Swing Face" (RCA).
-- A reissue of the Velvet Underground and Nico's seminal self-titled album, featuring a second disc of alternate mixes and bonus tracks (Universal).
-- Country star Ty Herndon's "This Is Ty Herndon: Greatest Hits" (Epic), sporting three new cuts.
-- The self-titled debut from rock act Epidemic (Elektra).
-- Guitarist Joe Satriani's "Strange Beautiful Music" (Epic).
-- An album from ex-Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford's Halford project, "Crucible" and a live set from Rollins Band, "The Only Way To Know for Sure" (Sanctuary).
-- Bluegrass veteran David Grisman's "Dawgnation" (Acoustic Disc).
-- Queensryche frontman Geoff Tate's self-titled solo debut (Sanctuary).
-- A new album from hard rock act Soulfly, "3" (Roadrunner).
-- The debut album from Maroon5 (formerly known as Kara's Flowers), "Songs About Jane" (Octone).