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Previewing new releases from Sean Combs, Melissa Etheridge, Built to Spill, Ivy, Faithless, and more.

All In The Family

Puffy CombsHip-hop kingpin Sean Combs returns to action this week with "P. Diddy & the Bad Boy Family ... The Saga Continues," out on his own Bad Boy label. The star-studded set features contributions from 112, Faith Evans, Black Rob, Carl Thomas, and production team the Neptunes, as well as up-and-comers the Hoodfellaz, Marc Curry, Kaine, and Cheri Denis.

The album was originally intended to be a compilation, but evolved into a full-fledged Combs release. The artist produced 10 of the 17 tracks on "Saga," which is the follow-up to the 1999 album "Forever." That set reached No. 1 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 2 on The Billboard 200.

"I wanted to get back to making music that keeps people dancing," Combs says. "I've definitely put my best into this album -- it's the essence of me and the soul of Bad Boy. I want the music to speak for itself." First single "Let's Get It" is No. 25 on Billboard's Hot Rap Singles chart, while "Bad Boy 4 Life" is No. 37 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks tally.

American 'Skin'

Melissa EtheridgeFew artists write impassioned rock songs about near-obsessive love relationships better than Melissa Etheridge, whose new Island album, "Skin," is clearly informed by her breakup with longtime partner Julie Cypher. The album truly shines when Etheridge uses a velvet glove rather than a hammer to make her point, such as the lovely, country-tinged "The Prison" or the plaintive "Down to One."

Other highlights of the largely self-produced set include the gentler but still compellingly urgent "Please Forgive Me" and closer "Heal Me." First single "I want to be in Love" is No. 35 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 chart this week. The album comes on the heels of Etheridge's autobiography, "The Truth Is... My Life in Love and Music," published late last month by Villard Books/Random House

Etheridge kicks off a solo North American tour Aug. 6 in Washington D.C.

'Future' Groove

Built to SpillBuilt to Spill front man Doug Martsch is a simple guy. Asked if his band's third Warner Bros. studio set, "Ancient Melodies of the Future," marks a shift away from previous work, he says cheerfully, "Sure, yeah." Asked why the album clocks in at a relatively short 39 minutes, he offers without a hint of irony, "The songs are all just one or two parts, so they don't go on for too long."

Indeed, since founding Boise, Idaho-based Built to Spill in 1993, Martsch has let his signature blend of sprawling guitar epics and concise, delightfully catchy rockers do the talking. Among the more revered acts in the U.S. rock underground, the group (which also includes drummer Scott Plouf and bassist Brett Nelson) signed to Warner Bros. in 1997 after a series of independent releases on such labels as Up, K, and C/Z.

On the 10-track "Melodies of the Future," produced by Martsch with longtime collaborator Phil Ek, Built to Spill offers a little bit of everything from its sonic bag of tricks. "Don't Try" and "Trimmed & Burning" recall the emphatic rock of 1997's "Perfect From Now On," while "Strange," "In Your Mind," and "Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss" hark back to the simpler, head-bobbing songs of 1994's indie release, "There's Nothing Wrong With Love." Keyboards mark tracks like "The Weather," while Martsch indulges a slide guitar-addled boogie on "Happiness." A tour of the East Coast and Midwest begins in early September.

No 'Distance' Too Long

IvyIt's something you don't hear every day, but Ivy's Andy Chase insists that being dropped from the rosters of Atlantic and 550 Music/Epic Records was the best thing that ever happened to the New York-based pop/rock trio. Rising from that tumultuous chapter in the Ivy story is "Long Distance," released in Japan last November by EastWest and finally arriving in the rest of the world this week via Nettwerk.

"Long Distance" was intended to be Ivy's first album for 550 Music/Epic, which had reissued 1997's "Apartment Life," the group's final Atlantic release before being dropped by that label. But 550 Music/Epic severed ties with the band before "Long Distance" was finished. To add insult to injury, the New York studio that Chase ran with Ivy's Adam Schlesinger and ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha burnt to the ground during the recording process. The group completed the sessions in Chase and Durand's apartment.

The homespun intimacy of this setting seeped into the sound of Long Distance, which wraps Ivy's melodic indie pop in inviting electronic textures far removed from the group's earlier, guitar-centric leanings. Durand's sensual vocals are beguiling as ever on such regret-tinged love songs as "One More Last Kiss," "Disappointed," and "Worry About You." Among the other highlights are the trip-hop-infused "Edge of the Ocean" and "Blame It on Yourself," the chorus of which sports some unexpected distorted guitar blasts. Look for the group on tour in North America early this fall.

Have Faith

FaithlessU.K. dance act Faithless' "Outrospective" has already debuted strongly across the world, including a No. 4 bow in the group's native land. The set, which arrives this week in North America via Kinetic/Cheeky/Arista, finds programmer Rollo Armstrong, keyboardist Sister Bliss, and DJ/rapper Maxi Jazz, puts the human condition to words and music. And yes, you can dance to it, especially such tracks as "We Come 1," "Tarantula," "Liontamer," and the Klein & MBO-inflected "Machines R Us."

"It's great that we're making music that's still affecting people," Armstrong says. "Since you never know when and if your fans might not be there, I feel like a man in a hurry. I don't want people to give up on us yet."

Also primed for dancefloors is the melodramatic "One Step Too Far," featuring Armstrong's sister Dido, whose vocals have graced tracks on Faithless' previous albums. Jazz-fronted "Not Enuff Love" and "Giving Myself Away" are mysteriously beautiful. Just as gorgeous are "Crazy English Summer" and "Evergreen," which spotlight the sublime vocals of Zoe Johnston, who has recorded with U.K. act Bent.

Additional titles hitting stores this week include rap act tha Liks' "X.O. Experience" (Loud/Columbia); reissues of U.K. singer/songwriter David Gray's "A Century Ends" and "Flesh," as well as a collection of non-album material, "The EP's: 92-94" (Caroline); piano pop group Yazbek's "Damascus" (W.A.R.?); singer/songwriter David Garza's "Overdub" (Atlantic); funk/rock act Galactic's "We Love 'Em Tonight" (Volcano); Tragically Hip frontman Gordon Downie's "Coke Machine Glow" (Zoe/Rounder); Backstreet Boys protege Krystal Harris' debut album, "Me & My Piano" (KBNHA/Interscope); rapper Ram-Z's "Ram-Z" (TVT); hard rock outfit Prime sth's "Underneath the Surface" (Reprise); singer/songwriter Kelly Joe Phelps' "Sky Like a Broken Clock" (Rykodisc); New York-based independent rock act Firewater's "Psychopharmacology" (Jetset); ex-Tarnation frontwoman Paula Frazer's "Indoor Universe" (Birdman); pop act Youngstown's "Down for the Get Down" (Hollywood); and punk veterans Saves the Day's "Stay What You Are" (Vagrant).

Also new is U.K. modern rock outfit Moke's "Carnival" (Ultimatum/Artemis); country act Del McCoury's "Del and the Boys" (Hollywood); modern rock group the Calling's "Camino Palmiero" (RCA); ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce's "Shadows in the Air," featuring a guest appearance by Eric Clapton (CMC International); two concert albums from jazz great Thelonious Monk, "Live at the Jazz Workshop - Complete" and "Monk in Tokyo"; and a four-disc box set spotlighting Elvis Presley's stint in Las Vegas, "Live in Las Vegas" (RCA).

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