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Previewing new albums from James Taylor, Brad, Slum Village, Future Sound Of London, and more.

The Long 'Road'

BurkeBillboard Century Award winner James Taylor will release "October Road," his first album in five years, this week via Columbia. The new album was produced by Russ Titelman, who previously worked with Taylor on the mid-1970s albums "Gorilla" and "In the Pocket." Taylor's daughter Sally contributes backing vocals on the tracks "My Traveling Star" and "Baby Buffalo," while guitarist Ry Cooder and saxophonist Michael Brecker guest on the title cut.

"Mostly it's my guitar, Jimmy Johnson's bass, and Steve Gadd playing drums," Taylor says of the new album. "Greg Phillinganes plays a lot of keyboard. But these are the best players, the finest people available. Then we went through a long period of time trying all kinds of different stuff. We got a couple of great string arrangements that Dave Grusin did for us, and I did a lot of choral work myself, constructing vocal parts on a number of these songs. That took us a long time to get right, too; that's just trial and error.

First single "On the 4th of July" is No. 16 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart this week. The album is the follow-up to 1997's "Hourglass," which won Grammys for best pop vocal album and best engineered recording, nonclassical. "I think the main thing about albums these days," Taylor said, "is that if it's not gonna be a major effort and represent a valid thing for somebody in my position, then why bother? There's no reason to just get something out to fill a slot in the marketplace."

'Welcome' To The Good Times

BurkeAfter two albums for Epic, Seattle rock outfit Brad has landed on Best Buy's Redline Entertainment imprint for "Welcome to Discovery Park," due this week. In support, the band will set off on its first wide-scale North American tour in more than five years, likely to begin in late October.

The new set finds the long-standing lineup of guitarist Stone Gossard, vocalist/keyboardist Shawn Smith, and drummer Regan Hagar augmented by a host of musical cohorts, including touring multi-instrumentalist Mike Berg and former Brad bassist Jeremy Toback, who had not worked with the group since 1997's "Interiors."

Smith's rich, soulful singing is at the center of such tracks as "Shinin'," "If You Could Make It Good," and "Never Let Each Other Down." Elsewhere, the band dabbles in funky rock ("Drop It Down," "Couch T-Bone"), breezy, melodic pop (first single, "La, La, La," "Takin' It Easy") and unconventional sonic detours ("Arrakis"). "It goes from super mellow to a little rowdy," Hagar says of the material. "There's also some straight pop stuff, because we all like all those things. The only way to represent us is to have a little of everything."

'Village' Voice

Burke"It's about good and bad relationships -- tainted and untainted," rapper T3 of Slum Village says of "Tainted," the first single from the group's new Barak/Capitol/Priority set, "Trinity." "My verse is about my girl and I. Baatin's [verse] is about the industry and the stuff we went through. When you put all those together, that's basically the concept of 'Tainted.'"

Indeed, the road from the act's critically acclaimed debut -- "Fantastic, Volume 2" (Barak/GoodVibe/Atomic Pop) -- to "Trinity" was not a smooth one. After Atomic Pop closed, the group signed with JCOR Entertainment. The departure of original group member/producer Jay Dee and JCOR's recent closure didn't help matters. These experiences all provided material for "Trinity."

"We did 'Fantastic, Volume 2' back in 1998, and from there we've been touring," T3 says. "We just kept on the road for most of that time until late 2000. That's when we stepped back and decided we'd work on the album. At that time, it was Jay Dee, Baatin, and me. Jay Dee decided he wanted to concentrate on his solo career, so Baatin and I started working for a minute. Then we brought in Elzhi, and once we did that it changed the whole direction of where we were going musically. 'Trinity' is a mixture of our past, our present, and our future."

'Is' The Isn't

BurkeFuture Sound of London (FSOL) -- Brian Dougans and Gaz Cobain -- returns to the recording world for the first time in six years this week with "The Isness" (Hypnotic/Cleopatra). The new disc is a triumph and progression for two very different partners tempestuously bonded by a very special project. In 1997, Cobain went to India to explore both the limits of his personality and physiology, attempting to find the source of a mysterious ailment that was eventually attributed to the mercury fillings in his mouth.

The more reclusive Dougans, who rarely consents to interviews, remained in London and improved his studio craft, researching new software and recording techniques. When Cobain returned the following year, he shocked Dougans by withdrawing from the studio they had created together to write songs at home on his guitar. Rather than let it discourage him from the partnership, Dougans decided to turn Cobain's songs into acoustic and electronic collaborations. But, in signature fashion, Cobain was thinking along slightly different lines.

"Gaz had more grandiose ideas, which involved orchestras, drummers, bass players, sitar players, and choirs," Dougans recalls of the new album's genesis. By the time the four-years-in-the-making set was complete, the contributors were many, ranging from former Captain Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas to the curiously modern Electric Gospel Choir to '60s teen idol Donovan. "From simple acoustic guitar and vocal tracks, we built the album up to monstrous 80-track layers of skyscraper sound," Dougans says.

Additional titles hitting stores this week include:

-- R&B veteran Keith Sweat's "Rebirth" (Elektra).

-- U.K. vocalist Marianne Faithfull's "Kissin' Time" (Virgin), featuring guest spots from Billy Corgan, Beck, Blur, and Pulp.

-- A remix album from R&B diva Mary J. Blige, "Dance for Me" (MCA)

-- Bluegrass trio Nickel Creek's "This Side" (Sugar Hill).

-- The various artists set "Snoop Dogg Presents... Doggy Style All Stars: Welcome to the House, Vol. 1" (MCA).

-- The debut album from modern rock act Sparta, "Wiretap Scars" (DreamWorks), featuring former members of At The Drive-In.

-- From the world of jazz: saxophonist Branford Marsalis' "Footsteps of Our Fathers" (Marsalis Music/Rounder) and pianist Brad Mehldau, "Largo" (Warner Bros.).

-- Indie rock wunderkind Connor Oberst's latest album under the Bright Eyes moniker, "Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground" (Saddle Creek).

-- The "One Big Trip" compilation (Hieroglyphics/Rumm), featuring Del The Funky Homosapien, Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, and Swollen Members, among others.

-- The soundtrack to the surfing-themed film "Blue Crush (Virgin), featuring tracks from Lenny Kravitz, Doves, Beenie Man, and Beth Orton.

-- Bluesman Bernard Allison's "Storms of Life" (Tone-Cool).

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