Hot Product for Monday, Sept. 16, 2002

Previewing new albums from Lifehouse, Natalie Cole, Ruben Blades, Doug Martsch, and more.

Pick A New Plan, 'Stan'

LifehouseWhen it came to Lifehouse's sophomore DreamWorks effort, "Stanley Climbfall," frontman/songwriter Jason Wade had no intention of hanging on a moment in time. "Hanging by a Moment" is the smash single that propelled the band's 2000 debut, "No Name Face," to U.S. sales of 2.3 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. With the new recording, the band and label are unified in their mission to ensure that they avoid the dreaded one-hit wonder albatross. For Wade, the first step in the process was in assembling strong material.

"I started writing songs immediately after the first album was made," he says. "I didn't want to be unprepared when it came time to do the second record. As we toured, we gained a stronger identity of who we were as a band, and my writing grew from there. When putting together 'Stanley Climbfall,' we didn't have the pressure to make another hit single. We just concentrated on making a good album."

Like the debut, "Stanley Climbfall" was produced by Ron Aniello and mixed by Brendan O'Brien, who helped Lifehouse take Wade's four-track, back-of-the-tour bus recordings and develop them into the 12 final cuts appearing on the record. First single "Spin" is No. 30 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart this week.

To 'Who Knows' When

Natalie Cole has been among R&B and pop's enduring voices for the past 25 years -- and she's more than willing to leave those worlds behind. With her Verve debut, "Ask a Woman Who Knows," Cole is ready to be a full-fledged jazz diva. "I've always tried to put a jazz song on my records," she says. "In fact, my biggest success was basically a jazz record, 'Unforgettable.' At this point, rather than make myself crazy with the competition in the pop world, I'd rather croon. I like to concentrate on the songs, on singing." The album's 13 tracks set a romantic tone thanks to the talents of such guests as Joe Sample, Rob Mounsey, Russell Malone, Diana Krall, Roy Hargrove, and the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra. "When making a record like this, it's about romance between all the artists," Cole says. " 'Honey, turn the lights down low, and everybody think about sex -- get sexy, get sensual, and play and sing. Let it take you where it wants to go.' You don't have to force it when it's good like that." As for the title, what is it exactly that Cole thinks she knows? "I know about life, love, and relationships from all sides -- good and bad -- and I believe that I've learned how to sing about it," she says with a chuckle.

Brave New World

Ruben Blades' path to a brave new musical world has been a long time in the making. It began with his earliest hit, "Pedro Navaja," a cinematic song recorded during his collaborative years with Willie Colon that defied radio formats and yet has become the biggest-selling single in salsa history. It continued with the socially conscious, sometimes wickedly funny material put forth with his band, Los Seis del Solar, in the '80s. And it plunged deeper with later, more experimental works, notably the Grammy Award-winning albums "La Rosa de los Vientos" (1996) and "Tiempos" (1999). One could say it's all been in preparation for Blades' Columbia set, "Mundos" (Worlds), an album in which -- no longer content with merely plumbing the depths of Caribbean and Afro-Cuban rhythms -- Blades has decided to seek a "universal memory" of music and rhythm. Blades, who began working on "Mundos" more than two years ago, originally conceived the project as a way to marry Irish and Latin rhythms. But in the process, the entire world got in the way. "I made a kind of map, where I began in the Northeast part of Africa, from Ethiopia, and I took that path to Asia Minor. I crossed part of Turkey, what today are independent Russian republics. I crossed toward Europe and then I jumped to America," Blades says. "During that voyage, I integrated these sounds."

Yes And 'Know'

For Built To Spill frontman Doug Martsch, what began life as a few fun riffs to play while practicing guitar ultimately evolved into the material for his first-ever solo album, "Now You Know." The set has been finished for more than two years but will finally see release this week from Warner Bros. In contrast to Built To Spill's electric guitar epics, the 10-track "Now You Know" offers a decidedly more intimate listen, thanks in part to having been recorded at Martsch's home studio in Boise, Idaho. The bulk of the tracks are built around blues-influenced riffs and slide guitar overdubs, with occasional added color provided by keyboards, cello, or the assistance of a local rhythm section. Martsch even played drums on some tunes. "I had no intention of making any songs for any release at all," the artist reveals of the set, which features 10 originals alongside a cover of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Jesus." "But over time, I wrote little parts just to practice or for things to do. All of the songs, even the ones with the band, were written that same way. It was never considered Built To Spill territory at all. It just sounds like Built To Spill because it's my voice." A Martsch solo tour kicks off Oct. 5 in Minneapolis.

Additional titles hitting stores this week include:

• A new album from hard rock outfit Disturbed, "Believe" (Warner Bros.), featuring the top-5 rock airplay hit "Prayer." • An album of early recordings from singer/songwriter John Mayer, "Inside Wants Out" (Columbia). • Blues artist Shemekia Copeland's "Talking to Strangers" (Alligator). • A self-titled set from hard rock group Theory Of A Dead Man (604/Roadrunner). • Veteran Irish folk outfit the Chieftains' "Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions" (RCA Victor). • Chicago-based rock act Ok Go's self-titled Capitol debut. • Singer/songwriter Joan Osborne's "How Sweet It Is" (Womanly Hips/Compendia) • A new self-titled album from Rhys Fulber's Conjure One project (Nettwerk) • Jazz vocalist Al Jarreau's "All I Got" (GRP) • A 20-disc set chronicling jazz legend Miles Davis' 1971-1991 performances "At Montreux" (Columbia/Legacy) • A three-CD collection of early Flaming Lips material, "Finally the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid: 1983-1988) (Restless). • An anthology from They Might Be Giants, "Dial-a-Song: 20 Years of" (Rhino).