The indie-folk pinup (last year’s Seven Swans made many a year-end top 10) returns with another album dedicated entirely to an American state. Following 2003’s tribute to Michigan, the Land of Lincoln gets its due. And he cuts no corners on research. Says Stevens: ”There were several charts involved — flash cards, line drawings and sketches, biographies, historical surveys…” And, of course, the usual eccentric instrumentation — hello, glockenspiel!
MOST LIKELY TO…give your record collection that certain Midwestern je ne sais quoi. (JULY 5)
Considering last year’s fiasco with the Jay-Z tour and a looming child-pornography trial, you’d think Kelly would have enough drama in his life. Apparently not. Inspired by radio serials of the ’30s and ’40s, the bulletproof crooner’s new album revolves around a five-song ghetto soap opera with more twists than Curly Sue eating a bag of pretzels. Still not enough theatrics? An accompanying DVD will visually chronicle the sticky saga.
MOST LIKELY TO…appeal to fans of Susan Lucci. (JULY 5)
The once-Lil’ rapper is all grown up and itching to be a Big Boi. ”I got records for the ladies, I got Down South raps, hood songs, I got it all,” says Bow Wow. Chart-topping friends Omarion (whose velvety R&B flava can be heard on current single ”Let Me Hold You”), singer Ciara, and former Svengizzle Snoop Dogg are bound to keep the pawty going.
MOST LIKELY TO…be thrown a bone by urban radio stations addicted to collaborations. (JULY 12)
This sister of Daniel Bedingfield has conquered her native U.K. via witty, up-tempo tracks like ”Single.” Now she’s aiming for U.S. success. ”Everywhere else has been playing me, even South Africa and New Zealand,” she says. ”America is the last place left.” Cock an ear for the hip-hop-flavored ”Drop Me in the Middle,” featuring D12’s Bizarre.
MOST LIKELY TO…make people say, ”Daniel Bedingfield? Oh, right. Whatever happened to him?” (JULY 19)
Kid comes into town. Works with cats who don’t know who he is. They lay down some hot ones.” That’s how the Pixie describes his ”spiritual” four-day stint playing with some of Nashville’s most celebrated session vets. Honeycomb serves a slice of Americana that recalls a certain legend’s own fruitful jaunts through Tennessee. ”The producer pushed for Black on Blonde as the title,” says Black. ”I thought it was too cute.”
MOST LIKELY TO…prove that Black’s got some backwoods boogie. (JULY 19)
Mr. A - Z
Mraz’s 2002 debut, Waiting for My Rocket to Come, took off like…a really slow rocket. Now Mraz and producer Steve Lillywhite (Rolling Stones, U2) have shifted focus. ”I’d come off the road from two years’ touring, feeling my voice had improved,” says Mraz. ”It adds up to an album that’s definitely more vocal.” And trucker-hat-free on the cover. ”That was for my mother. She kept saying, ‘I wish you’d take that hat off?people will think you’re bald!”
MOST LIKELY TO…be the next dorm soundtrack. (JULY 26)