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Previewing new albums from Paul McCartney, the Black Crowes, Blues Traveler, David Byrne, and more.

Spreading His 'Wings'

Paul McCartneyRather than aping the sound Paul McCartney helped shape with the Beatles, his post-Fab Four band Wings was more personal and stylistically prismatic in tone, its often ruminative sense of diversity tempered by considerable pop/rock craft. As made clear on "Wingspan" (MPL/Capitol/EMI) -- a two-CD commemorative anthology due this week that will be accompanied by an ABC-TV special and followed by a holiday boxed set of Wings rarities, studio outtakes, and previously unissued performance documents -- Wings' signature was a colorful and welcoming power-pop sound.

"I could have, obviously on the first Wings record, had a number of tracks that were 'Eleanor Rigby'-esque," McCartney reflects. "I could have done that thing. I would see other people do it, and there's always been people who've done Beatle-y type things. Look at some of the bands who came out in the last five years; there's a lot of Beatle-ish stuff. It's good that they like it. I had to move on, but there were many people saying, 'Don't do this, stick with your old stuff, don't take a new road.' To us, that seemed like a cop-out."

"Wingspan" includes such favorites as "Band on the Run," "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Listen to What the Man Said," "Live and Let Die," "Silly Love Songs," and "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey."




Unleash The 'Lions'

Black CrowesBlack Crowes frontman Chris Robinson says the group feels revitalized by "Lions," its sixth album and first for V2. "We got to really explore all the different terrain we cover musically and really commit to it," he says. "We've always played it a little safer, and kept an eye on the sound of our older records. But on this record, that wasn't really interesting to us."

"Lions" was recorded with producer Don Was at New York's Theater 99 Recording, a cavernous converted Yiddish theater. Without abandoning the sound of past efforts, the album re-emphasizes the Crowes' signature rock power, with shades of such stylistic forefathers as the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin (the band spent parts of 1999 and 2000 on the road with Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, a pairing that yielded the acclaimed Musicmaker.com/TVT live album "Live at the Greek.")

First single "Lickin'" is No. 10 on Mainstream Rock Tracks. A co-headlining tour with Oasis kicks off Monday (May 7) in Las Vegas.




A Closer 'Look'

David ByrneEx-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne says his new album "Look Into the Eyeball" (Virgin) was "built from the beat up." He admits that he did not originally plan on "Eyeball" being the accessible recording that it is. "I thought it would be something quite different. I envisioned a series of longer, more instrumental pieces that would evolve into songs," he says.

But as he continued writing, the songs were becoming shorter, and "that became OK. These songs reached their natural conclusion." What resulted was a richly diverse yet notably cohesive collection that darts from African-tribal percussion ("U.B. Jesus," "Broken Things") to Philly soul ("Neighborhood") and classic go-go ("Like Humans Do"). He even delves effectively into Latin territory with "Desconocido Soy," his first song written and performed entirely in Spanish.

A U.S. tour begins May 10 in Providence, R.I. First single "Like Lovers Do" is at radio now.




Over The 'Bridge'

John PopperBlues Traveler's "Bridge" (A&M) is the group's first album since 1997's "Straight On 'Til Morning," which debuted at No. 11 on The Billboard 200. Since then, the group has endured a series of personal crises, from frontman John Popper's 1999 heart surgery to the death of bassist Billy Sheehan that August.

With Tad Kinchla, the brother of Blues Traveler guitarist Chan Kinchla, stepping in on bass and Ben Wilson joining on keyboards, the group hopes to recapture the success of earlier efforts such as 1994's breakthrough album "Four." First single "Girl Inside My Head" is at radio now, and Blues Traveler will be on tour in North America through mid-August.

On the day of release, group members will engage in a flurry of promotional activities. In the morning, Popper will guest on "The Howard Stern Show," while the full band will tape a song for "The Late Show With David Letterman" as well as an acoustic performance for VH1. That night, Blues Traveler will play at New York's Supper Club and finish the day off with an after-hours jam at CBGB's.




Overcoming The Odds

Hard as it is for new artists to make a favorable impression at radio these days, it's even harder to do it with a debut single on a brand-new, independent label. Yet, it's precisely those odds that VFR Records artist Mark McGuinn is quickly overcoming with "Mrs. Steven Rudy," which is No. 7 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart this week.

McGuinn has a colorful background as a former jazz musician (he plays trumpet, guitar, and piano) and a semi-pro soccer player. The North Carolina native came to Nashville in 1993 after a knee injury ended his career with the Greensboro (N.C.) Dynamo. He quickly turned his attention to songwriting. "I really didn't have an aspiration to be an artist," he says. "I wanted to write songs and wanted [other artists] to record them. They didn't record them, so I had this immense catalog built up."

McGuinn, who mapped every song out on a 4-track recorder before hitting the studio, says his vision for the album included its banjo and drum loop-laden sound, because "that just happens to be the particular musical experiment I was into at the time. It may be glockenspiel and pan flute on the next record; I don't know," he jokes. "I'll keep experimenting 'til I find something people hate."




Additional titles hitting stories this week include glam rock outfit Placebo's "Black Market Music" (Virgin); ex-Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan's "Field Songs" (Sub Pop); the sophomore album from Washington, D.C.-based indie rock trio Burning Airlines, "Identikit" (Desoto); a new album from Tiny Universe frontman Karl Denson, "Dance Lesson #2" (Blue Note); the soundtrack to the Nicole Kidman/Ewan McGregor-starring musical "Moulin Rouge," featuring a remake of LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade" by Christina Aguilera, Mya, Lil' Kim, and Pink (Interscope); an album from German electronic rock act To Rococo Rot in collaboration with electronic artist I-Sound, "Music is a Hungry Ghost" (Mute); a solo album from hip-hop DJ Hi-Tek, "Hi-Teknology" (Rawkus); blues guitar legend John Mayall's "Along for the Ride" (Eagle/Red Ink); a second soundtrack to the HBO series "The Sopranos" (Columbia); and modern rock act Sum 41's "All Killer, No Filler" (Island).

Also out this week is the Bob Dylan tribute "A Nod to Bob," featuring John Gorka and Ramblin' Jack Elliott (Red House); reissues of the Band's "Rock of Ages," "Islands," "Moondog Matinee," and "Northern Lights, Southern Cross" (Capitol); a reissue of blues veteran R.L. Burnside's "Mississippi Hill Country Blues" (Fat Possum); a two-CD best-of from Jimi Hendrix, "Voodoo Child: The Collection" (UTV); and a best-of from Quincy Jones, "20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection" (A&M).