Previewing new albums from Ashanti, Tweet, Shana Morrison, and more.
'Fool' For You
Ashanti is quickly becoming one of R&B's biggest new stars. With three songs -- Ja Rule's "Always on Time," Fat Joe's "What's Luv?" and her own "Foolish" -- already charting in the top-10 on the Hot 100, the diminutive 19-year-old has set a firm foundation for her eponymous debut, due this week on Murder Inc./Def Jam.
Despite her hectic tour schedule with Ja Rule, the songstress found time to pen all 17 tracks for the set. It was Murder Inc. CEO Irv Gotti who suggested using DeBarge's "Stay With Me" -- made popular again by the Notorious B.I.G. on his 1995 "One More Chance" remix -- as the musical bed for "Foolish." The track's historic background proved a bit daunting. "I didn't want to redo a Biggie classic," Ashanti says. "But I took his idea and ran with it."
As for influences, Ashanti cites her father, Ken-kaide Douglas; the late Kenny Green of R&B trio Intro; and Mary J. Blige. "She brought hip-hop and R&B together," Ashanti says of Blige. "When I felt that I wanted to do this, I knew I didn't want to sing slow songs, and I can't rhyme. When I heard what she was doing, it inspired me."
R&B newcomer Tweet knows first-hand how rewarding and disheartening the music business can be. A few years ago, the singer/songwriter's initial attempt at a music career ended with her contemplating suicide. Now, with the release this week of her The Gold Mind/Elektra debut, "Southern Hummingbird," she's enjoying the fruits of first-single success. "Oops (Oh My)" is nestled at No. 3 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart and at No. 10 on the Hot 100.
After several promises to record an album never materialized, things took a turn for the better when Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, whom Tweet met in 1994, called and asked her to sing on Elliott's latest album, "Miss E ... So Addictive." Elliott subsequently signed Tweet to her Elektra imprint.
And while Elliott, Timbaland, and Bilal lend their talents to "Southern Hummingbird," the set's acoustic guitar-driven tracks, revealing lyrics, and plaintive, church-honed vocals prove that the self-taught guitarist and drummer is definitely her own artist.
A 'Wish' Come True
When Shana Morrison was a teenager, she didn't dream of becoming a professional singer, because she thought it would only serve to fulfill other people's expectations. Now, with the release this week of her Vanguard album "7 Wishes," Morrison -- the daughter of legendary musician Van Morrison -- has fully come into her own as an artist.
"I've always liked to sing, and I'd write my own songs," Morrison says, "But I always got annoyed when people said, 'Oh, you're going to be just like your dad or your mom [who is also a songwriter].' What teenager wants to be like their parents? But it turned out that I really enjoyed it." That enjoyment is evident on "7 Wishes," an eclectic mix of pop, rock, and blues. In addition to Morrison's original compositions, there are two tracks penned by her father.
A special treat on the project is "Sometimes We Cry," a Van Morrison song that features the icon on backing vocals and harmonica. While the recording of the track and the inclusion of Morrison's father was truly last minute, the result is a stunning collaboration. Morrison says of the track, "We finished recording ahead of schedule one day, and [producer] Steve [Buckingham] and I had been talking about the song earlier. He said, 'Let's just try it today and see what happens.' We decided to keep it. I love [my dad's] songs, and he thinks it's cool that I sing them."
'Kinks' In The Machinery
Blur/Gorillaz principal Damon Albarn, Lambchop, Yo La Tengo, Queens Of The Stone Age, Jonathan Richman, Fountains Of Wayne, and Bebel Gilberto are among the acts that have recorded Kinks covers for "This Is Where I Belong: The Songs of Ray Davies & the Kinks," due this week from Rykodisc/Praxis Recordings. Davies wrote the liner notes for the set and appears on a duet with Albarn on the classic "Waterloo Sunset," taped during a 1996 U.K. TV appearance.
"At first glance, it looks as though the artists have made brave choices," Davies says in the liner notes. "Not gone for the obvious 'hit' songs but instead found some lesser known material that is a welcome surprise to me." Indeed, only four of the 16 tracks made an appearance on The Billboard Hot 100 in their original form: "Who'll Be the Next in Line" (No. 34), "Till the End of the Day" (No. 50), "Victoria" (No. 62), and "Better Things" (No. 92).
Among the highlights are Gilberto's sensual version of the Brazilian-leaning "No Return" (from 1968's "Something Else by the Kinks"), Josh Rouse's shimmering take on "A Well Respected Man" (from 1965's "Kinkdom"), and Yo La Tengo's soft, largely acoustic update of "Fancy" (from 1966's "Face to Face").
"This Is Where I Belong" is the second Kinks tribute to drop in the past few months, following "Give the People What We Want - Songs of the Kinks Performed by...," released last November by Sub Pop. That album was dominated by artists from the Pacific Northwest, including Mudhoney, the Fastbacks, and the Minus 5, who also appear on "This Is Where I Belong" covering "Get Back in Line."
Additional titles hitting stores this week include:
-- Modern rock act Apex Theory's "Topsy-Turvy" (DreamWorks).
-- Teenage rapper Lil' J's "All About J" (Hollywood).
-- A four-CD box set from veteran U.K. rock act XTC, "A Coat of Many Cupboards" (Astralwerks).
-- Composer Craig Armstrong's "As If to Nothing" (Astralwerks), featuring guest spots by U2's Bono, Evan Dando, Mogwai, and Photek.
-- The various artists set "Chronic Jointz, Vol. 1" (In the Paint/Koch), with previously released tracks from Cypress Hill, St. Lunatics, and Tricky Daddy, among others.
-- The various artists collection "Rarewerks, Vol. 2" (Astralwerks), featuring rare tracks from Fatboy Slim, the Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx, and Doves, among others.