Billboard Bits: Puffy, Mascis, Joe Henry, and more

News on Sean Puffy Combs, Faith Evans, Kelly Price, Carl Thomas, Brandy, Brian McKnight, J Mascis, Mike Watt, Ron Asheton, Stooges, Joe Henry, Ornette Coleman, Madonna, Marc Ribot, Brad Mehldau, Jeffe

Embattled rapper/producer Sean "Puffy" Combs and minister/artist Hezekiah Walker have compiled a contemporary gospel collection for release on Combs' Arista-distributed Bad Boy label. Dubbed "Thank You," and due out June 5, the album includes contributions from Faith Evans, Kelly Price, Carl Thomas, Brandy, Brian McKnight, Walker, and more.

The album's first single will be "You," on which Evans is joined by Thomas, Walker, 112, Mario "Yellowman" Winans, Thelma Guyton, Asia & Ashley, Cheri Dennis, and Tammy Ruggeri. The song, like much of the album, was produced and co-written by Combs and Winans. Others who wrote and/or produced tracks include Brandy, Rodney Jerkins, Joe, Hammond, Warryn "Baby Dub Campbell, and Stevie J.

News of the release comes amidst Combs' ongoing high-profile New York trial for gun possession and bribery, as well the recent debut of his latest Sean Jean fashion line.

-- Barry A. Jeckell, N.Y.

A underground rock supergroup of sorts will take to the stage March 15, as former Stooges guitarist/bassist Ron Asheton joins J Mascis and the Fog for a performance at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. Mascis' band already includes underground icon Mike Watt, former bassist with the Minutemen and fIREHOSE. Asheton had previously joined the Fog onstage at a February 2 show in Ann Arbor, Mich. A spokesperson for Ultimatum, Mascis' record label, says Asheton has not yet been confirmed for additional dates on the band's tour, which wraps up May 5 in Portland, Ore., but "we're keeping our fingers crossed." The former Dinosaur Jr. principal is touring in support of the Fog's "More Light" album, which features guest spots from My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields and Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard.

Singer/songwriter Joe Henry will release his new album, "Scar," May 15 on Mammoth. The 10-track set, which features guest spots by jazz great Ornette Coleman, enigmatic artist Me'Shell Ndegeocelo, pianist Brad Meldhau, and Latin guitarist Marc Ribot, is the follow-up to 1999's acclaimed "Fuse." The set's first single will be "Stop," a re-recording of "Don't Tell Me," which he co-wrote for his sister-in-law Madonna's "Music" album. "Don't Tell Me" has been a worldwide smash, and is No. 6 on The Billboard Hot 100 this week.

Jefferson Starship members Marty Balin and Paul Kantner, Janis Ian, and Tom Paxton will perform a pair of benefit shows Monday (March 5) at New York's famed Bottom Line nightclub. The shows, part of the First Amendment Center's "Freedom Sings" concert series, will be hosted by actor Dominic Chianese ("The Sopranos"). A portion of the proceeds will benefit New York's Folk Music Museum. The Freedom Sings series began in July 1999 in Nashville, with performances by Steve Earle, Steppenwolf's John Kay, Kim Richey, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Rodney Crowell, and others. The event spawned a live benefit disc released by the center last fall. While several other concerts have been held on U.S. university campuses, the Bottom Line shows are the first to land in New York. The center is hoping to stage future concerts in venues around the country, according to a spokesperson. Prior to the concerts, Balin and Kantner will discuss music and the ongoing battle for free expression at First Amendment Center. Moderated by the center's executive director Ken Paulson, the discussion will be taped for a special episode of "Speaking Freely," the organization's weekly TV series. On March 27, singer/songwriter Jill Sobule will be interviewed for the show.