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Previewing albums from Sisqo, Stone Tempe Pilots, Afro-Celt Sound System, Luther Vandross, Gorillaz, and more.

'Dragon' Song

SisqoFrom platinum curls to corn rows, Sisqo is never one to stay the same for long. The Baltimore native aims to prove that he's more than merely a singer with a love of thong lingerie on his sophomore solo effort, "Return of Dragon" (Dragon/Def Soul). A sign of the "new" Sisqo is the first single, "Can I Live," which features two recording acts signed to his Dragon imprint, LovHer and the Associates. The Teddy Riley-produced track is No. 72 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart this week.

"We chose 'Can I Live' because it was totally different from anything else I had ever recorded," Sisqo says. "It was showing the fans, as well as the critics, that I'm not a one-dimensional character. 'Can I Live' shows that even though I'm climbing the proverbial pop ladder, I haven't lost my heart."

Sisqo's last album, "Unleash the Dragon," peaked at No. 2 on The Billboard 200, and spawned the single "Incomplete," which topped The Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, as well as "Thong Song," which hit No. 3 and No. 2 on those charts, respectively.

Trouble In 'Shangri La'

Stone Temple PilotsIf the members of Stone Temple Pilots had their way, their new Atlantic album "Shangri-la Dee Da" would have been a two-CD set. Frontman Scott Weiland says longtime producer Brendan O'Brien was instrumental in curbing the band's initial hopes for a double album.

"The main reason that we set [a double album] as the goal was, what better way to free ourselves from the habits we got into of making records in the past?" Weiland says. "Looking at it today, we didn't end up with a double album, but what we did end up with was the best album of our careers so far."

The new set constitutes STP's first finished studio work since Weiland was released from jail on drug charges in December 1999. Alongside significant departures such as the bossa-nova tinged "About a Fool" and "Bipolar Bear" are what Weiland calls "classic STP rockers" like "Transmissions From a Lonely Room" and first single "Days of the Week," which is already in the top-10 on both of Billboard's rock airplay charts after just two weeks.

'Further' Adventures In Sound

Afro-Celt Sound SystemAfro-Celt Sound System's James McNally has gotten used to his group's albums being stocked in a different department at every record store, from world to new-age to dance and electronic. But whatever the classification, the genre-jumping U.K.-based collective is primed to raise its international profile to new heights with the release this week of "Volume 3: Further in Time" (Real World).

"Further in Time" is truly difficult to categorize, drawing on a diverse roster of some 20 additional musicians and vocalists, among them vocalist/kora player N'Faly Kouyate, as well as star-studded guest vocal turns from Real World honcho Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, and Irish vocalist Pina Kollars. "When You're Falling," the track on which Gabriel handles lead vocals, was the top debut at No. 8 on the Airplay Monitor Triple A chart earlier this month; it's No. 5 this issue.

In part to capitalize on the out-of-the-box success of the track, Gabriel will join the Afro-Celt's at this year's WOMAD festival, set for July 29. He will also be on hand for a July 26 taping of "The Late Show With David Letterman." A full North American tour is in the works for the fall.

Lovely Luther

Luther VandrossThat voice. From Luther Vandross' early days as a jingle and background singer to his ensuing string of R&B/pop hits, the Grammy winner's silky-soul tenor continues to elicit reverential comments. Now, after a stint with Virgin and three years of staying trim, Vandross returns this week with his eponymous debut for J Records.

With longtime musical colleagues Marcus Miller and Nat Adderley Jr. in tow, the singer also collaborated with an enviable lineup of contemporary producer/songwriters. That circle includes Warryn Campbell, Babyface, Shep Crawford, Harvey Mason Jr. and Damon Thomas (aka the Underdogs), Soulshock & Karlin, Jon B., KayGee, and Next's R.L. First single "Take You Out" is No. 24 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.

Another highlight is the uptempo "Grown Thangs," written by Jon B. and Babyface. Its sentiment -- a couple finding time for each other while juggling work and kids -- is reminiscent of Vandross' 1986 hit "Stop to Love." Not stinting on the ballads, the album offers such choice selections as the tender "Bring Your Heart to Mine" (whose co-writers include KayGee and R.L.), the poignant "I'd Rather," and the Vandross/Miller composition "Love Forgot."

Ape Appeal

GorillazGorillaz, the animated band created by "Tank Girl" illustrator Jamie Hewlett and Blur frontman Damon Albarn, unleashes its self-titled debut in North America on Virgin this week. The group features Albarn, Dan the Automator Nakamura, Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori, and Del tha Funkee Homosapien, bolstered by guest appearances from Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club and Ibrahim Ferrer of Buena Vista Social Club.

The four official members of Gorillaz, as drawn by Hewlett, are Murdoc (satanic chain-smoking bassist/possessive leader of the group), 2-D (blank-eyed frontman singer/Albarn alter ego), Noodle (10-year-old female Japanese whiz guitarist), and Russell (hulking drummer, possessed by the spirit of his dead rapper friend). In their alternate virtual reality, they met through a bizarre chain of events and currently live together in Kong Studios, a headquarters/recording studio in London.

The album, which debuted at No. 3 in the U.K. and has already hit the top of the charts in Italy and Germany, includes the bass-heavy single "Clint Eastwood," which hit No. 2 in the U.K. and has recently been serviced to U.S. radio. Gorillaz hope to run loose for shows in North America before the end of the year.

In Dave We 'Trust'

Dave NavarroWith his Capitol solo debut, "Trust No One," Jane's Addiction/former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro has been thrust for the first time to the front-and-center of the proverbial rock'n'roll stage. The album showcases him as a tunesmith of remarkable depth -- not to mention as a formidable vocalist. "Most people don't believe it's really me singing at first," he says, laughing. "I guess that's a compliment."

Many of the songs on "Trust No One" deal with what the artist calls his "misperceptions regarding love and relationships. Through the exploration of those misconceptions, I've come out on the other side with a whole different outlook." One of the key tracks is "Rexall," which is No. 15 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Named after the Los Angeles pharmacy where Navarro's parents met, the track is a hypnotic, ultimately shattering rocker wherein the artist paints a heartbreaking portrait of a man at the threshold of a nervous breakdown.

Navarro will mount his first-ever solo tour in the fall, following the conclusion of Jane's Addiction's second reunion tour since its 1991 dissolution. The new album will also be released in conjunction with the book "Don't Try This at Home," featuring photo-booth pictures of every person who visited the musician's home over the span of a year.

Additional titles hitting stores this week include the debut album from rap collective D-12 (featuring Eminem), "Devil's Night" (Interscope); rap/rock veterans 311's "From Chaos" (Volcano); a live album from Beach Boys principal Brian Wilson, "Live at the Roxy Theatre" (Oglio); teenage vocalist Mandy Moore's self-titled third album (Epic); R&B newcomer Ray-J's "This Ain't a Game" (Atlantic); veteran rock act Electric Light Orchestra's first new album in 15 years, "Zoom" (Epic); teenage vocalist Billy Crawford's "Ride" (V2); the soundtrack to the Eddie Murphy film "Dr. Doolittle 2" (J); rapper Mystic's "Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom" (Goodvibe/JCOR); Southern rock outfit Widespread Panic's "Don't Tell the Band" (Sanctuary); singer/songwriter Edwin McCain's "Far From Over" (Lava/Atlantic); hip-hop act Outsidaz' "The Bricks" (Rufflife); rapper Backbone's "Concrete Law" (Universal); vocalist Nicky Love's self-titled debut (DreamWorks); violinist Joshua Bell's "West Side Story" (Sony Classical); punk band Pennywise's "Land of the Free" (Epitaph); and R&B trio P.Y.T.'s "P.Y.T. (Down With Me)" (Epic).

Also out this week are reissues of the Ramones' first four albums: "Leave Home," "Ramones," "Road to Ruin," and "Rocket to Russia" (Rhino); the second edition in the rock archival series "Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond, 1964-1969" (Rhino); rapper Esham's "Tongues" (Overcore); hard rock act Cradle of Filth's "Bitter Suites to Succubi" (Spitfire); former Spinanes frontwoman Rebecca Gates' "Ruby Series" (Badman); singer/songwriter Simon Joyner's "Hotel Lives" (Atavistic); a trio of albums from the Secretly Canadian label: Marmoset's "Record in Red," Panapoly Academy Legionnaires' "No Dead Time," and South principal Patrick Phelan's "Parlor"; the soundtrack to the John Singleton-directed film "Baby Boy" (Universal); a best-of from country act Asleep at the Wheel, "20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection" (MCA Nashville); a best-of under the same title from hip-hop legends Eric B & Rakim (Hip-O); a reissue of country act Chris Cagle's "Play it Loud" (Capitol); and a retrospective from hip-hop veterans Digital Underground, "No Nose Job - The Legend of" (Tommy Boy).

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