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Previewing new albums from Alan Jackson, Willie Nelson, the "A Walk to Remember" soundtrack, and more.

This Is A Long 'Drive'

Crazy TownAlan Jackson was well into work on his new Arista Nashville album, "Drive," when the events of Sept. 11 intervened. Several weeks later, he had written the song "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" and was performing it before a live audience at the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards show. "A lot of those questions that I asked in [the song] were emotions I felt or things I had witnessed [while watching] television," he says. "I think it was a gift, and I'm just a messenger for it. It's a very special song."

Jackson either wrote or co-wrote nine of the 12 cuts on "Drive," which includes both the studio version of "Where Were You" and a bonus track of the CMA performance. Jackson duets with George Strait on "Designated Drinker," reprising the chemistry the high-powered duo demonstrated on the CMA Award-winning song "Murder on Music Row." He cut the Irene Kelley/Mark Irwin tune "A Little Bluer Than That" after hearing Kelley perform the song at the Grand Ole Opry one night while listening to his radio. Another Jackson-penned highlight is "Work in Progress," a humorous plea for a wife to be patient with a husband who forgets their anniversary and to take out the trash.

"Where Were You" has given the upcoming album a huge shot of early publicity, having already spent four weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks. The artist begins a North American tour Feb. 1 in Champaign, Ill.

'Divide' And Conquer

Willie NelsonUpon a casual listen, Willie Nelson's new Lost Highway album, "The Great Divide," sounds like it could be pages ripped from the Red-Headed Stranger's road-worn journal. Themes of passionate rebellion, relationship discord, and the consequences of time are as comfortable to Nelson as a weathered bandanna.

The stories Nelson relays were crafted by a stellar cast of writers that includes Bernie Taupin, Leslie Satcher, Mickey Newbury, Cyndi Lauper (he covers "Time After Time"), and matchbox twenty lead vocalist Rob Thomas, who contributed three cuts ("Maria," "Won't Catch Me Cryin'," and "Recollection Phoenix"). "I really like his writing," Nelson says of Thomas, adding that if the latter had submitted more songs, he would have cut them, too. "He's got a way of saying things that takes [his compositions] out of categories. You could listen to them on any station."

Thomas also lends vocals to "Maria." In typical Nelson fashion, "The Great Divide" contains multiple duet partners, including Brian McKnight on "Don't Fade Away," Kid Rock on "Last Stand in Open Country," Lee Ann Womack on "Mendocino County Line," Bonnie Raitt on "You Remain," and Sheryl Crow on "Be There for You." An extensive world tour begins Jan. 18 in Red Bank, N.J.

'Remember' The Time

MandyOf the three albums of material that she's recorded to date, Mandy Moore says that she'd be content if only one song was heard by the pop masses: her new single, "Cry." "I carried around a copy of that song for over a year before I recorded it," she notes with a smile. "It felt like my ace in the hole. It's such a beautiful song on every level. I couldn't wait to get into the studio and sing it."

"Cry" is featured on the artist's current eponymous Epic collection, which was issued during the summer of 2001. It's also the single ushering in the soundtrack to Moore's forthcoming feature film, "A Walk to Remember," in which she plays a minister's daughter who falls for a guy from the wrong side of the tracks. The film also stars Shane West as Moore's love interest, Daryl Hannah, and Peter Coyote.

In addition to "Cry," the soundtrack offers three new songs by Moore: the gently percussive "It's Gonna Be Love"; the delicate, piano-driven ballad "Only Hope"; and a duet with John Foreman of Switchfoot, "Someday We'll Know," a song penned by Gregg Alexander, formerly of the New Radicals. Additionally, the set includes songs from Rachael Lampa ("If You Believe"), Switchfoot ("Learning to Breathe," "Dare You to Move," "You," and the aforementioned "Only Hope"), the New Radicals ("Mother, We Just Can't Get Enough"), and Toploader ("Dancing in the Moonlight").

Hits And Misses

B52sThis week sees the release of a number of retrospective packages, beginning with "Nude on the Moon," a two-disc anthology from the original Athens, Ga., college-rock pranksters, the B-52s. The set collects 35 songs spanning the group's 25-year career, including hits, album tracks, remixes, and live tracks. Among the rarities are "Is That You, Mo-Dean? (Interdimension Mix)," a 1992 remix by Moby, and a David Byrne-produced version of "Queen of Las Vegas."

The Bruce Cockburn best-of package, "Anything Anytime Anywhere (Singles 1979-2002)," due from the Rounder and True North labels, kicks off an extensive reissue series of the singer/songwriter's work, as well as ushers in a new studio album from the artist. The single disc "Singles" set will represent more than two-thirds of the recent Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee's career, and feature two new songs -- "My Beat," with Patty Griffin, and "Anything Anytime Anywhere" with the Fairfield Four.

The ABKCO album "Keep Movin' On" assembles 23 Sam Cooke tracks that were omitted from RCA's 2000 Cooke box set due to copyright issues, including such favorites as "A Change Is Gonna Come" and "Shake." The set also includes the title track, which has never been previously released, and an alternate take of "I'm Just a Country Boy."

Other key titles hitting stores this week include:

-- the first album in eight years from modern rock act Concrete Blonde, "Group Therapy" (Manifesto)

-- the first titles in Motown's new "Love Songs" series: romantic-themed collections from Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye

-- a new edition of the Temptations' 1995 album "For Lovers Only" bolstered with a cover of Cole Porter's "Night and Day"

-- a DVD Audio edition of Queen's 1975 album "A Night at the Opera" (DTS)

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