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Previewing new albums from Garth Brooks, Paul McCartney, Busta Rhymes, Jewel, Natalie Merchant, Shakira, and more.

Final Lap

Garth BrooksTo hear Garth Brooks tell it, "Scarecrow" will be the last studio album of his red-hot career. In the 12 years since his self-titled debut, the artist has done nothing short of revolutionize the country music industry, selling more than 100 million albums in the process. Brooks, 39, declared he was retiring last October to spend more time with his three daughters. He definitively stated that he would no longer tour, but vowed to try to deliver "one more album" to his label.

"Scarecrow," named after the Ray Bolger character in "The Wizard of Oz" who led with his heart, displays Brooks' wide musical range, from the honky-tonkin' "Big Money" to the jangly bluegrass of "Don't Cross the River," the Beatles-esque "Wrapped Up in You," and the sweeping, orchestrated grandeur of "When You Come Back to Me Again."

Says Brooks, "Whatever the next page of my life is, [whatever] the next career is that I go to, I would love for someone to go, 'Hey, you know he played music before this, right?' That's the goal. Whether it's matched or not, please don't condemn me for letting that be the goal." In the meantime, look for the artist in a trio of live CBS concert specials on Nov. 14, 21, and 28.

Click here to read an excerpt of Billboard's recent exclusive interview with Brooks.

Laughter In The 'Rain'

Paul McCartneyPaul McCartney says returning to his usual bass playing duties on his new Capitol album, "Driving Rain," was "simple and satisfying." The set is McCartney's first since 1999's "Run Devil Run," a collection of vintage rock covers. "One of the things that began when we were doing 'Run Devil Run' was me remembering that I'm mainly the bass player," he says. "Talking about the old way the Beatles used to record brought that back to me. So although I've played a bit of guitar and stuff on the occasional track, I've basically been the bass player. That's my role."

The 15-track "Driving Rain" was produced by David Kahne (Tony Bennett, Sugar Ray) and features Rusty Anderson on guitar, Gabe Dixon on keyboards, and Abe Loboriel Jr. on drums. First single "From a Lover to a Friend" is No. 25 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart and will also be featured in the upcoming film "Vanilla Sky," starring Tom Cruise.

"We came into the studio on Monday morning, I'd show them a song, and we'd start doing it," McCartney says. "We recorded 18 tracks in the first two weeks, in February, and then I went back to [Los Angeles] in June and recorded another couple of tracks and mixed the album. So making the whole album from beginning to end has taken about five weeks. That's still pretty good going, but that is the kind of work rate we'd do in the Beatles."

In The Beginning...

Busta Rhymes"Genesis" is an appropriate title for rapper Busta Rhymes' new album, his first under a new recording deal with J Records. "I went into this album with a clean slate," he says. "When you aren't stressed, you can come creatively in a whole new way." First single "Protect Ya Neck," produced by Dr. Dre, is No. 15 on Billboard's Hot Rap Singles chart. The set also sports guest spots from Kelis, Mary J. Blige, Jaheim, Rah Digga, Flip Mode Squad, and P. Diddy.

"I've always had amazing guests on my joints, but this time the lineup of talent is incredible. I really think that musically as well as lyrically, 'Genesis' is my strongest record and honestly it came to fruition when folks need it the most."

Blige guests on the bouncy "There's Only One," while Diddy turns up on the club oriented "Pass the Courvosier." Says Rhymes, "You know me and Diddy always make the hot tracks, and this time we hit the studio, cracked open the bottle, and rocked it."

'This Way' To The 'Motherland'

JewelWhen Atlantic singer/songwriter Jewel ventured into the studio for the first time in two years, she insists she wasn't there to make a record. She was there to make music. "I had quit the business, really. I just wasn't sure I wanted to come back to the machine," Jewel admits. "I took a year off and then two years passed and finally I knew there were things I wanted to say. I had a very clear vision and was not willing to compromise."

"This time, I sang the vocals live with the band a few times and just picked the best," the artist says of "This Way," her new 14-track set, co-produced by Dan Huff. "It allowed me to perform more as an artist than a scientist in the studio." Among the standouts are "Love Me Just Leave Me Alone," a classic rock-rooted, no-holds-barred jam that Jewel has performed live; the whimsical, bluesy "Everybody Needs Somebody Sometime"; the biting but luscious ballad "Break Me"; and the intimate, social commentary "Serve the Ego."

Natalie Merchant was also in no mood for messing around on "Motherland" (Elektra), which was co-produced by T-Bone Burnett (Elvis Costello, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"). She confesses, "creating a sequence for the songs on this album was a big challenge and I hope that I performed a successful balancing act. I've never written songs more overtly political or so intimately personal before."

"This House Is on Fire" ruminates on the WTO protests in Seattle and the presidential election dispute in Florida, while "Saint Judas," featuring gospel legend Mavis Staples, was written after Merchant viewed a photo exhibit on the history of lynching in America. "I knew that Mavis would understand my words and deliver them," she says. "I wanted to hear that incredible powerhouse of a voice."

First single "Just Can't Last" is No. 34 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 Tracks chart this week. Merchant is on tour in North America through mid-December.

'Hit' Parade

MadonnaThis week is absolutely overflowing with greatest hits packages from veteran artists, led by Madonna's Maverick collection "GHV2." The 15-track album spans the artist's career since 1991, with such top-10 hits as "Music," "Erotica," "Secret," "Frozen," "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," and "Ray of Light." A DVD/VHS from Madonna's Detroit stop on her Drowned World tour is also due this week.

Canadian rock outfit Barenaked Ladies unveils "Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits/1991-2001," featuring the 1998 No. 1 hit "One Week," recent singles "Pinch Me" and "Too Little Too Late," plus "Brian Wilson," "The Old Apartment, "Jane," and "If I Had $1000000." Two new songs recorded specifically for the compilation, "It's Only Me (the Wizard of Oz)" and "Thanks That Was Fun," also made the cut.

Not to be outdone, Green Day will release the 21-track best-of collection "International Superhits" this week, combines 19 previously released cuts -- such as the modern rock staples as "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," "Longview," and "Welcome to Paradise" -- with the new songs "Poprocks & Coke" and "Maria." A DVD sporting each of the band's music videos hits stores this week as a companion.

Last but not least, pioneering U.K. modern rock outfit the Cure sidesteps longstanding breakup rumors by including the new songs "Cut Here" and "Just Say Yes" on "Greatest Hits," due this week on Elektra. Many of the 18 tracks here -- such as "Just Like Heaven," "Friday I'm In Love," and "Boys Don't Cry" -- have appeared on the Cure's two prior singles collections. To make the set worthwhile to fans that already own these songs, the group recorded new acoustic versions of all 18 cuts on "Greatest Hits" and will bundle them together as a limited edition, two-CD set.

Shakira's 'Laundry'

ShakiraIt took Colombian pop/rock star Shakira more than a year to complete "Laundry Service," her first English-language album and a mega-production in which virtually every resource, producer, writer, and arranger was placed at her disposal. But in the end, perhaps the most successful female Latin artist of her generation chose to make her foreign-language debut as intensely personal as her work in Spanish, closely supervising every single process in its production.

"Laundry Service" features 13 tracks -- four of them in Spanish -- all either produced or co-produced by Shakira. She also either wrote or co-wrote each tune. It veers from "Objection" -- best described as a rock'n'roll tango -- to the Middle Eastern strains of "Eyes Like Yours" and such sweeping ballads as "Underneath My Clothes." The track "Suerte" is currently atop both Billboard's Latin Pop Airplay and Hot Latin Tracks charts.

"I'm more in control than ever," the 24-year-old says. "I'm the only one who knows exactly what I want and the direction I want to go in." As for the title, she offers, "I've spent the year dedicated to my two great passions: love and music. Those two elements are like soap and water. It was a deep cleansing, almost like being reborn."

Additional titles hitting stores this week include:

-- Barry Manilow's "Here at the Mayflower," his first set of original material in more than 10 years and his first album under a new deal with Concord

-- hard rock act Sevendust's third album, "Animosity" (TVT)

-- former best new artist Grammy winner Shelby Lynne's "Love, Shelby," produced by Glen Ballard (Island/Def Jam)

-- an eight-track live album from U.K. rock experimentalists Radiohead, "I Might Be Wrong" (Capitol)

-- new MCA albums from soul vocalists Allure ("Sunny Days") and KeKe Wyatt ("Soul Sista")

-- jazz guitarist Larry Carlton's "Deep Into It" (Warner Bros.)

-- bluegrass artist Gail Davies & Friends, "Live & Unplugged at the Station Inn" (Little Chickadee/Valley)

-- R&B artist Ms. Toi's "That Girl" (Universal)

-- hard rock veteran Rob Zombie's "The Sinister Urge" (Interscope)

-- a greatest-hits set from vocalist Rod Stewart, "The Very Best Of" (Rhino)

-- a best-of from long-running modern rock outfit the Psychedelic Furs, "Beautiful Chaos: Greatest Hits Live" (Columbia)

-- an expanded edition of reggae legends Bob Marley & the Wailers' "Exodus" (Island)

-- a 3-CD boxed set from folk duo Mimi & Richard Farina, "The Complete Vanguard Recordings" (Vanguard)

-- a mix-CD from Culture Club frontman Boy George, "Lucky for Some" (J-Bird)

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