Previewing new music from 112, Lionel Richie, Old 97's, Toadies, Jon B, Sherrie Austin, Me First And The Gimme GimmesThird Time's A Charm
In contrast to its past two Bad Boy/Arista albums, 112's "Part III" was mostly written and produced by the R&B foursome. "It's very fickle in R&B," says Marvin "Slim" Scandrick III. "You're only as hot as your last record." The set's first single, "It's Over Now," is in its second week at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.
"As an R&B act, what we have to show is our ability as singers, songwriters, and performers/dancers," adds Mike Keith. "We want to corner the same market as 'N Sync, the Backstreet Boys, and Christina Aguilera. What we're trying to do now is broaden our horizons. We've gone as far as we can go as an urban group without taking it to the next level, so now we need that push to cross us over to pop."
Lionel Richie says he "found out the old sound is the new sound" when recording "Renaissance" (Island/Def Jam), his first studio album in three years. Rodney Jerkins and Fred Jerkins III, Walter Afanasieff, and Daryl Simmons are among Richie's production/songwriting collaborators on the set.
"Rodney and Fred kept asking me, 'How do you get a song that plays year after year?' I said, 'You've got to sing a melody, not a lick,'" recalls Richie. "I've always been anti-box, always wanted to be different. In talking to other singers, I've found that they're dying for expression instead of being put [into] boxes, which is great from a marketing standpoint, but horrible for artistry. If Bach and Mozart were black, would they be in the R&B department?"
"That's where I've been fortunate," he continues. "I was allowed to experiment during a time when radio embraced different kinds of things instead of dictating exactly what it wants artists to sound like. I loved the faces of the R&B jocks when I walked in with the country song [and the Commodores' 1979 No. 8 R&B hit] 'Sail On.' They said, 'This brother's crazy.' In the middle of the disco craze, I came up with the  ballad 'Three Times A Lady,' while [1983's] 'All Night Long' is calypso."
Launching The 'Satellite'
In most cases, when the singer in a really great, but not huge, rock band starts playing solo acoustic gigs, it's not a good sign. But the solo dates that Old 97's' singer/guitarist Rhett Miller plays between the band's records and tours have had just the opposite impact on the group, he says. In fact, a number of the songs that appear on Old 97's' new Elektra album "Satellite Rides" originated from such performances.
Miller, who splits time between homes in L.A. and New York, says that with better songwriting, subtle verses, and big choruses, "Satellite Rides" emphasizes the "linear progression" the band's traveled since issuing its first records -- 1994's "Hitchhike To Rome" and the following year's "Wreck Your Life" -- on Bloodshot. This album, he adds, is "less embattled" than 1999's "Fight Songs," which spawned the rock airplay hits "Nineteen" and "Murder (Or a Heart Attack)."
The initial pressing of "Satellite Rides" will be accompanied by a bonus disc with several live cuts and a newly recorded studio track.
To 'Hell' And Back
Texas-based modern rock act the Toadies returns this week with its sophomore Interscope album "Hell Below/Stars Above." The release marks the group's first album since 1994's "Rubberneck," which peaked at No. 56 on The Billboard 200 and spawned the top-10 rock airplay hit "Possum Kingdom."
The completion of "Hell Below/Stars Above" spanned the loss of guitarist Darrel Herbert (he was replaced by ex-Funland guitarist Clark Vogeler), the scrapping of a 20-song recording session with Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary behind the boards, and surviving Interscope's 1998 merger with Seagram, after which some 200 bands were dropped from the new conglomerate's roster.
But the band regrouped in January 2000 to begin recording fresh with producers Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf (Elliot Smith, Beck, Foo Fighters). The finished product has 12 new tracks, including first single "Motivational," at radio now.
R&B vocalist Jon B. this week releases his third album, "Pleasures You Like" (Epic). A mix of retro grooves and hip-hop beats, the set features guest appearances by Nas, Babyface, and Eve. The artist wrote or co-wrote every song, and produced most of the album, which was recorded at his VibeZelect Studios in Pasadena, Calif.
First single "Don't Talk" is No. 23 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart this week. Jon B's last album, "Cool Relax," peaked at No. 33 on The Billboard 200 in May 1998, and spawned the single "I Do (Whatcha Say Boo)," which topped out at No. 18 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks.
Austin Follows A 'Feelin''
When Arista Nashville was folded into the RCA Label Group last year, Sherrie Austin looked at the shakeup as an opportunity to step back and delve into her songwriting. Now Austin, who was among the artists who exited the Arista roster during the merger, has surfaced with a new label partnership, a clutch of original songs, and a relaxed, mature record in "Followin' A Feelin'," due this week on WE Records.
The switch has apparently paid off, at least from a songwriting standpoint. Austin co-wrote nine of the record's 10 cuts, many with longtime collaborator/producer Will Rambeaux. "A sort of thread runs throughout the album, and the title cut sums it up," Austin says. "I tried to analyze what would make me happy -- what do I need as opposed to what do I want. I do know I want to write. I want to make records. I want to be onstage and around people."
'Gimme' Them Oldies
Members of Foo Fighters, NOFX, Lagwagon, and the Swingin' Utters have reactivated the side project Me First And The Gimme Gimmes to release a third covers album, "Blow In The Wind," this week on Fat Wreck Chords. The group consists of vocalist Spike Slawson (Swingin' Utters), guitarists Chris Shifflet (Foo Fighters) and Joey Cape (Lagwagon), bassist Fat Mike (NOFX), and drummer Dave Raun (Lagwagon).
This time around, the group -- which has previously tackled favorites from Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, and show tunes from "Evita" and "Grease" -- puts its signature stamp on such oldies as the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B," Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man," the Beatles' "All My Loving," the Stone Poneys' "Different Drum," and Cat Stevens' "Wild World," among others. The group will perform live as part of this summer's Vans Warped Tour.
Additional titles hitting stores this week include rapper Trick Daddy's "Thugs Are Us" (Slip-N-Slide/Atlantic); veteran hip-hop outfit the Beatnuts' "Take It Or Squeeze It" (Loud); Cincinnati-based R&B trio RAM-Z's self-titled debut album (TVT); hard rock act Skrape's "New Killer America" (RCA); singer/songwriter Tiffany Anders' "Funny Cry Happy Gift," produced by Polly Jean Harvey (Up); R&B vocalist Tank's debut album "Force Of Nature" (Blackground/Virgin); noted producer Victor Calderone's "Energy=VC2 2" (Tommy Boy); an album from guitarists Steve Lukather and Larry Carlton, "No Substitutions" (Favored Nations); and a collection of the final studio recordings from late singer/songwriter Laura Nyro, "Angel In The Dark" (Rounder).
Also out this week is a self-titled album from Rancid principal Lars Frederiksen & the Bastards (Hellcat); albums from two Australian rock acts: Killing Heidi's "Reflector" and Powderfinger's "Odyssey #5" (Universal); veteran hard act Sepultura's "Nation" (Roadrunner); renowned DJ Pete Tong's "The Essential Mix" (Sire); lauded indie rock act the Sheila Divine's "Where Have My Countrymen Gone" (Co-Op Pop); modern rock outfit Unloco's "Healing" (Maverick); a reissue of Afrika Bambaataa's "Looking For The Perfect Beat" (Tommy Boy); and an expanded edition of the Cranberries' 1998 album "Bury The Hatchet" (Island).