Previewing new albums from Celine Dion, Avant, the Baha Men, and more.
For the past two years, Celine Dion has given herself time to exhale -- and in the process, permission to breathe in life's simple pleasures. But after a hiatus that saw the world's best-selling contemporary female artist give birth to her first child, Dion returns this week with "A New Day Has Come" (Columbia), a project free of superstar duets, high-profile remakes, or '80s samples. The title track is No. 1 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart this week.
She sounds at ease and eminently confident throughout the set, whether soaring through the quintessential skyscraping ballad "Surrender"; romping across the playful, positive "I'm Alive," "Coulda Woulda Shoulda," and dancefloor rocket "Sorry for Love"; or gently singing the album's finale, "Nature Boy," a song originally recorded by Nat "King" Cole that features a jazzy Dion accompanied only by piano. She also covers "At Last," a gospel-tinged number first recorded by Glenn Miller in 1941.
"I didn't feel the pressure to try and outdo anything," Dion says of her time in the studio. "I proved myself before, so now I can enjoy. I was relaxed, I just let go. It was such a pleasure. I love these songs: They touch me, I'm happy, let me sing to you my joys and emotions. I've never felt more powerful." In March 2003, she begins a three-year commitment to appear five nights a week at the Caesars Palace Coliseum in Las Vegas, a three-tier, 4,000-seat arena designed and currently being built just for her show.
Love Is All Around
Love is the overriding theme on Avant's sophomore album, the aptly titled "Ecstasy," due this week from Magic Johnson Entertainment/MCA. "I want to be the balladeer," the artist says. "I want people to understand that more love should be in the house. There's no time for arguments."
The 13-song set features many ballads, accented by some impressive uptempo tunes. "With this CD, I'm taking it more personal," Avant says. "With the last CD, I had to put in a little pop and a little R&B. But this CD is strictly me. The last album was [about] my thoughts -- this album is [about] my feelings."
First single "Makin' Good Love," is No. 20 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart this week. "This song is a product of opening your mind and thinking of all the wonderful places [where] you can make good love," Avant says. "I wrote this song before Sept. 11. But after everything happened, it just sealed things." A European tour with Mary J. Blige runs through late April.
'Move It' Or Lost It
Contrary to popular U.S. belief, the Baha Men have been making music for more than a decade. In its homeland of the Bahamas, the band has enjoy a long, well-respected run. But it wasn't until 2000 -- with the release of the anthem "Who Let the Dogs Out," culled from an album of the same name -- that it earned Stateside attention. With "Move It Like This," due this week on the Capitol-distributed S-Curve Records, the Baha Men are striving to dispel the proverbial one-hit-wonder curse.
Band leader/bassist Isaiah Taylor says, "We are still living the same simple lives we always lived and feel the same we always felt." Indeed, the new album is full of happy party songs, including a campy but fun remake of the late Harry Nilsson's "Coconut" and a pleasing take on Billy Ocean's "Caribbean Queen."
Taylor says, "When making previous albums, I could say that I liked three or four of the songs. This time, I like 90% of the album. I personally believe that we did a far better job on this album than on the Dogs album-but it will be just as big of an album, if not bigger."
The World Wrestling Federation (WWF) isn't just a powerful brand name on TV: the company has also been associated with hit albums. The latest musical offering is "WWF Forced Entry," due this week on SmackDown!/Columbia Records. The 18-track set features theme songs various rock acts have written for WWF stars, including Disturbed, Sevendust, Rob Zombie, Cypress Hill, and Drowning Pool. The set also features a new mix of Limp Bizkit's "Rollin'" and Kid Rock's cover of ZZ Top's "Legs."
Sevendust is joined by Creed, P.O.D., Godsmack, System Of A Down, and Nickelback in contributing new songs to Universal's "The Scorpion King" soundtrack, which precedes the movie's April 19 U.S. theatrical release. The Godsmack cut, "I Stand Alone," is No. 6 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart this week.
Singles featured on MTV's immensely popular "Total Request Live" (TRL) show will be available in compilation form this week via UTV Records' "The Best of TRL Pop." There are no exclusives or rarities here, just the show's most popular singles in their original studio incarnations, from Smash Mouth's ubiquitous "All Star" and Sisqo's equally universal "Thong Song" to Enrique Iglesias' No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 smash "Be With You" and Willa Ford's "I Wanna Be Bad." All the big boy bands are here too, including 'N Sync, Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, O-Town, and BBMak.
Additional titles hitting stores this week include:
-- new albums from the U.K.-based acts Gomez ("In Our Gun," Virgin) and Ed Harcourt ("Here Be Monsters," Capitol).
-- hard rock supergroup Down's "II" (Elektra).
-- new albums from country artists Ty Herndon ("This Is," Epic) and Mindy McCready ("Mindy McCready," Capitol).
-- jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson's "Belly of the Sun" (Blue Note).
-- former Whiskeytown principal Caitlin Cary's "While You Weren't Looking" (Yep Roc).
-- reissues of the first 13 albums and two prior live sets from heavy metal legends Iron Maiden, plus the newly recorded concert document "Live in Rio" (Sanctuary/Metal-Is).
-- expanded reissues of Ozzy Osbourne's "Blizzard of Ozz," "Diary of a Madman," "No More Tears," and "Tribute" (Epic).
-- albums from singer/songwriters Beth Nielsen Chapman ("Deeper Still," Artemis) and Ben Kweller ("Sha Sha," ATO).
-- rapper Pretty Willie's "Enter the Life of Suella" (Universal).
-- modern rock outfit Big Head Todd & the Monsters' "Rivera" (Big Records).
-- soundtracks for the upcoming films "National Lampoon's Van Wilder" (Ultimatum) and "The Rookie" (Hollywood).
-- Irish rock act Cyclefly's "Crave" (Radioactive/MCA).
-- veteran R&B group All-4-One's "A41" (AMC).