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Previewing new albums from Musiq Soulchild, Lauryn Hill, Tom Waits, and more.

'Listen' Up

MusiqMusiq, the artist formerly known as Musiq Soulchild, returns this week with his sophomore Def Soul album, "Juslisen." The set is the follow-up to 2000's "Aijuswanaseing," which peaked at No. 4 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and featured the top-30 R&B/hip-hop singles "Just Friends (Sunny)," "Love," and "Girl Next Door." First single "halfcrazy" is No. 6 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart this week.

Musiq (real name: Talib Johnson) says many songs on the 18-track album, including "halfcrazy," are based on personal experiences. "It stems from a true story," Musiq says of the single. "The song itself is not how the story goes, but, like most of my songs, it stems from something that I've been through. We chose that as the single because it cuts through everything that's going on right now in the category that I'm in musically. It's just an alternative way of listening to the same type of music."

And while Musiq and his writing partner Carvin Haggins wrote the majority of the tracks on album, "Juslisen" also features a cover of the George Harrison-penned Beatles classic "Something." The idea was suggested by Def Jam/Def Soul president Kevin Liles. "I didn't know why until I heard about George Harrison's passing," Musiq says. "After I recorded it, I was surprised, not because I thought I wouldn't like it, but because I surprised myself." Musiq is on tour with rapper Cee-Lo through early June.

'Plug' And Play

LaurynAfter countless delays and rescheduled release dates, former Fugee Lauryn Hill's "MTV Unplugged No. 2.0" finally sees the light of day this week via Columbia. The two-disc set, taped last July in New York, runs 106 minutes and features entirely new, solo acoustic songs that may wind up on Hill's sophomore solo album.

Accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, a vulnerable and endearing Hill tells the audience, "I used to be a performer, and I don't consider myself a performer anymore." In many ways, she seems to want to distance herself from her past musical efforts (and not just because no Fugees or prior solo material is performed here) by saying "Fantasy is what [people] want, but reality is what they need. I've retired from the fantasy part."

If the words of such songs as "Mr. Intentional" and "I Get Out" can be interpreted as being about the music industry -- and if so, they are scathing indictments indeed -- it's clear that Hill is now playing by her rules only. Other highlights include "I Find It Hard To Say (Rebel)," "Water," and the Stevie Wonder-ish "I Just Want You Around."

'Blood' And 'Alice'

WaitsInnovative troubadour Tom Waits follows up his acclaimed 1999 debut for Epitaph's Anti- imprint, "Mule Variations," with a pair of albums due this week, "Alice" and "Blood Money." The releases are said to be "startlingly different in landscape, sound, emotion, and composition." Perhaps most typical of the material fans have come to expect from Waits, the fractured fairy stories of "Alice" are set to broken-kaleidoscope orchestrations he and his wife and collaborator Kathleen Brennan composed for a Robert Wilson-directed play of the same name staged in Hamburg in 1992.

The songs on "Blood Money" were inspired by the true story of Woyzeck, a poor soldier driven mad by medical experiments and an unfaithful wife in Leipzig in 1821. Melodies from beer-hall singalongs and the rhythms of carnival rides provide impetus, as do German Kabarette and sentimental torch songs. Waits and Brennan weave all their sources into vastly entertaining song cycles, driven by sonic daredevilry and a gift for language that is alternately haunting and hilarious

A video for the "Blood Money" track "God's Away on Business" was recently shot in Los Angeles by director Jesse Dylan. Waits will also make a rare television performance appearance May 8 on CBS' "Late Night With David Letterman."

All In The 'Family'

STPElektra rolls out the "Family Values Tour 2001" live album this week, the third such release to document the rock-oriented trek. The set sports a variety of tracks from last year's tour participants Stone Temple Pilots, Linkin Park, Staind, Static-X, and Deadsy. STP's contributions include "Vasoline," "Wicked Garden," and "Creep," the latter with a guest spot by Staind frontman Aaron Lewis.

Linkin Park contributes "Runaway" and "One Step Closer," also featuring Lewis, while Staind itself offers "Fade" and the rock radio smash hit "It's Been Awhile." Among the other oddities are Lewis' solo rendition of the Pearl Jam ballad "Black" and Deadsy's cover of the Rush classic "Tom Sawyer."

Interscope's album from the 1999 Family Values tour helped launch Staind into the spotlight with the acoustic version of "Outside," performed by Lewis and Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst. That track hit No. 1 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and No. 2 on the Modern Rock Tracks tally, and later reappeared in a full band version on Staind's 2001 Elektra album "Break the Cycle."

Additional titles hitting stores this week include:

-- Famed DJ Grandmaster Flash's "Essential Mix: Classic Edition" (Warner Strategic Marketing).

-- A concert document from DJ Fatboy Slim, "Live at Brighton Beach" (Ministry of Sound).

-- Veteran session musician and dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas' "Lookout for Hope" (Sugar Hill).

-- A best-of from Cincinnati-based boy band 98 Degrees, "The Collection" (Universal).

-- Singer/songwriter Warren Zevon's "My Ride's Here" (Artemis), featuring songs penned by authors Hunter S. Thompson and Mitch Albom.

-- Jazz vocalist Will Downing's "Sensual Journey" (GRP).

-- Blues guitarist Corey Harris' "Down Home Sophisticate" (Rounder).

-- Country artist Daryle Singletary's "That's Why I Sing This Way" (Audium).

-- Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley's "Lost in the Lonesome Pines" (Dualtone), a collaboration with singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale.

-- The various artists set "Songcatcher: The Tradition That Inspired the Movie" (Vanguard), featuring such tracks as Dock Boggs' "Oh Death" and "Sugar Babe" and Sara Ogan Gunning's "Girl of Constant Sorrow."

-- Eclectic, largely instrumental rock trio Trans Am's "TA" (Thrill Jockey).

-- Modern rock act Wayne's "Music on Plastic" (TVT).

-- New mix CDs on System Recordings from Danny Tenaglia ("Back to Basics") and Anthony Pappa ("Resolution").

-- Geffen reissues of 10 Peter Gabriel albums, including "Peter Gabriel 1," "2," and "3," the "Birdy" soundtrack, and a condensed version of "Plays Live."

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