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Previewing new albums from Goo Goo Dolls, Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and more.

Out Of The 'Gutter'

GooGoo Goo Dolls' "Gutterflower" (Warner Bros.) follows the biggest studio album of the threesome's career, 1998's "Dizzy Up the Girl," which has sold 3.6 million copies in the U.S., according to SoundScan. The pressure to follow it up with a worthy successor loomed large in the band's mind when it returned to the studio in 2001 with co-producer Rob Cavallo.

"Things come and go so quickly in the music business now," frontman Johnny Rzeznik observes. "You start to question your relevance and whether somebody has already planned your obsolescence, and that's really uncomfortable." If the response to first single "Here Is Gone" is any indication, Rzeznik needn't worry; the track is No. 6 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 Tracks chart and No. 22 on the Hot 100.

"Pretty much all of the songs I wrote on this record [are] my trying to relate more to myself than other people," says Rzeznik, who went through the end of his six-year marriage. "I'm still evolving in my own damn way, you know. I've had a pretty severe case of failing to communicate with myself for a long time. This is the first time I've ever lived alone. Your thoughts tend to get a little louder when you're all alone." The band will tour the world beginning later this year.

'Passion' Play

NeilRecording for the first time with sometime touring mates and Stax studio vets keyboardist Booker T. Jones and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn (both of Booker T. & the MG's), Neil Young turns out his version of classic soul music on "Are You Passionate?," due this week from Reprise. It's Young's first album since 2000's "Silver & Gold," which debuted at No. 22 on The Billboard 200.

"Are You Passionate?" boasts a group of midtempo, often organ-propelled, electric guitar-led songs that have more in common with the mellow vibe of "Harvest Moon" than the raging roar of his Crazy Horse sets (though the full Crazy Horse lineup does make an appearance on the rousing "Goin' Home"). Apart from "Let's Roll," Young's tribute to Sept. 11 hero Todd Beamer, some of these songs about life, love, family, friends, and the world seem subtly laced with lyrics inspired by the terrorist attacks.

"Let's Roll" netted Young his first appearance on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart in six years, peaking at No. 32 last month. The artist is planning a summer solo tour in support of the new album.

'Silver' And Gold

BonnieBonnie Raitt's "Silver Lining," due this week via Capitol, takes its name from a David Gray song found on the latter's 1999 breakthrough album "White Ladder." The album was produced with Raitt by Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake, who teamed for her 1998 set "Fundamental," which peaked at No. 17 on The Billboard 200. First single "I Can't Help You Now" is No. 25 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart this week.

The track was penned by Tommy Sims, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Gordon Kennedy, the trio behind Eric Clapton's No. 5 Hot 100 hit "Change the World." Raitt knew it was a keeper the minute she heard it. "I'd been waiting for a song that was catchy and funky and musical with kind of a hook in it, and that's when I knew I could go into the studio," she says. "Until you get a record that's a single, it's not really time to make an album."

"Hear Me Lord" is cover of a song originally written by Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi, while "Back Around" is a co-write with Mali native Habib Koite, whose band Bamada is featured on the track. Raitt is on tour in North America through mid-June.

'Fang' Shui

JSBX"We just wanted to make a more traditional record. And, personally, I was looking for someone to pat me on the back and push me to something new," says Jon Spencer of his group Blues Explosion's new Matador set, "Plastic Fang." The "someone" is musician/producer Steve Jordan, best known for his pairing with Keith Richards in the X-Pensive Winos and his session work with artists from B.B. King to Billy Joel.

Plastic Fang marks the first time Blues Explosion has worked with a producer in the traditional sense. In turn, the band delivers its finest album to date, a tightly focused, driving, and irresistibly funky rock'n'roll record that doesn't let up till the final cymbal crash has faded. With songs like the menacing "Killer Wolf," "Money Rock N' Roll," the slide guitar-drenched "Down in the Beast," and "Shakin' Rock N' Roll Tonight," the sound grabs the listener and won't let go.

The group is currently on tour in Europe but will return to North America for month-long tour, beginning April 24 in Philadelphia.

Additional titles hitting stores this week include:

-- Experimental jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood, "Uninvisible" (Blue Note).

-- A collection of rarities from singer/songwriter Steve Earle, "Sidetracks" (E-Squared/Artemis).

-- A new album from the Mingus Big Band featuring Elvis Costello, "Tonight at Noon: Three or Four Shades of Love" (Dreyfus Jazz).

-- The various artists set "1 Giant Leap" (Palm), which augments multi-cultural field recordings with contributions from Michael Stipe, Stewart Copeland, Baaba Maal, Neneh Cherry, and ex-Arrested Development frontman Speech.

-- A new album from singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt and jam band Widespread Panic under the moniker Brute, "Co-Balt" (Widespread).

-- New albums from electronic artist Luke Slater ("Alright on Top," Mute); production team Master At Work ("Our Time Is Coming") and veteran DJ Junior Vasquez ("Earth Music") (Tommy Boy Silver).

-- Rapper Afu-Ra's "Afu-Ra" (In the Paint/Koch) and hip-hop outfit Gravediggaz's "Nightmare in A Minor" (Empire Musicwerks/BMG), featuring the late Too Poetic.

-- New sets from veteran underground rock act Meat Puppets ("Live from Maxwell's," DCN); Imperial Teen ("On," Merge); long-running punk combo Face To Face ("How To Ruin Everything," Vagrant); and ageless speed metal act Motorhead ("Hammered," Sanctuary).

-- The 20th anniversary edition of pianist George Winston's "Winter Into Spring" (Windham Hill), featuring the previously unreleased "(Love Echoes in the) Pine Hills."

-- Campus favorites Rusted Root's "Welcome to My Party" (Island).

-- Singer/songwriter David Wilcox's "Live Songs and Stories" (W.A.R.?).

-- Hard rock act Must's "Androgynous Jesus" (Wind-Up).

-- Instrumental futurist jazz act Soulive's "Turn It Out" (Velour).

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