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American Gangster: Greater Than Or Equal To Barry Manilow?

New This Week

As last week's release of big name titles by Britney Spears, the Eagles, and even the Backstreet Boys makes clear, this is the time of year when artists and record companies pull out all stops and release the hottest product they can in order to "maximize profits" during the long-awaited fourth quarter.

As an added bonus, they can also remain financially solvent!

That's why this week we're seeing oodles of greatest hits sets, high-profile DVD releases by the Beatles and the Who, and--my personal favorite--"reissues" of albums that are still high on the charts!

So if you missed picking up country sweetheart Taylor Swift's debut album, now's your chance to get it again--this time with bonus tracks and videos included! Already have it? No problem! CDs make wonderful coasters for holiday parties and are a great added touch when serving hot spiced wine or egg nog! It's win/win for everyone!

Jay-Z: American Gangster (Def Jam) I don't think people give pioneering rapper Jay-Z enough credit. First of all, though he recently retired, he's back in the fray once more--probably because as a high-level record company executive, he knows he's got to do whatever it takes to move the sales needle! Secondly, he presciently named his album after a new movie that everyone expects to be a huge hit!  Thirdly, I'd be willing to bet he was actually in the studio when his record was being made!  And finally, he married Beyonce! He must be on the ball! Kind of!

Barry Manilow: The First Television Specials [DVD] (Stiletto New Media/Rhino): In many ways the Jay-Z of his own generation, lovable '70s crooning heartthrob Manilow can be seen in all his glory on five big DVDs here--all showcasing his memorable television specials which aired between 1977-1988! With a host of guest stars including Penny Marshall, John Denver, Ray Charles, and Dionne Warwick, this is one holiday treat the entire family will enjoy! In the same manner that the actual names of the specials themselves are oddly compelling--ie, The First Barry Manilow Special, The Second Barry Manilow Special, and then, significantly, The Third Barry Manilow Special--I find Disc 3's "Everly Brothers Medley" performance with John Denver the most hypnotic of the lot! Everyone's hair looks great, too!

Angels & Airwaves: I-Empire (Geffen) Back for a second attempt at expected post-Blink 182 superstardom--and perhaps a tad frustrated at its absence following the group's debut release--Tom DeLonge is back with a new bassist (30 Seconds To Mars' Matt Wachter) and more listenable, melodic verging-on-arty material that's really not bad at all. Is the album title a deliberate pun about Southerrn California's so-called Inland Empire? Is it an actual statement of DeLonge's personal sense of self-worth? Is it a nod to Tina Turner's biography, I, Tina? I say probably not!

Chris Brown: Exclusive (Jive) This record is going to be huge, figuratively speaking! Seen by many as the only bright spot of this year's horrendously stupid MTV Music Video Awards, Brown is on the verge of true superstardom, and with a guest list this distinguished--Justin Timberlake, R. Kelly, Timbaland, T-Pain, Pharrell, Bud Abbott, Lou Costello--what else can we expect?  Watch this CD fly off the shelves directly into the bedroom of teenage girls everywhere! Then tell all your friends you saw a CD actually fly! They'll laugh...but their eyes will be glazed over!

John Sebastian & David Grisman: Satisfied (Acoustic Disc) Always great to hear anything new featuring former Lovin' Spoonful mainman John Sebastian, and this pairing with distinguished mandolin wizard David Grisman is an actual reunion of sorts: In the early '60s both men were members of the proto-folkie Even Dozen Jug Band with Maria Muldaur, among others. Featuring a collection of well-played traditional tunes, blues and a few originals, and impeccably recorded (as most albums on this label are), this set shows each artist to be in fine form and, like Jay-Z, a human being! No word on ringtones yet!

The Beatles: Help [DVD] (Apple Corps/EMI) Getting the deluxe DVD treatment here is the second Beatles film--the one people didn't like as much as the first--and that's great by me! Now seeming strangely like a Monkees TV show, the film's wacky plot is essentially hijacked by the individual charms of the Fab Four, as they were repeatedly called at the time, but that's OK!  Especially of interest is the audio quality of the tracks heard within: they've never sounded finer, and the clarity is literally stunning. These guys could be the next Green Day!

Five For FightingBack Country/Live (Columbia) I don't want to imply that I'm not enormously captivated by the charming Five For Fighting, but it still strikes me as odd that, well you know, it's really just one guy who probably doesn't like fighting at all. Anyway, this live set was recorded in Orlando, a city affiliated with Britney Spears, and is also available as a DVD! Highlights include a deeply personal stage rap in which Fiveboy John Ondrasik tells us all about the time he went to a restaurant with his wife and heard a guy actually covering one of his songs while he was there! If he was playing to an audience of chiropractors this would be frickin' perfect on two levels!

The Who: Amazing Journey: The Story Of The Who [DVD] (Universal) Though few people had any quibbles with 1979's The Kids Are Alright film--which was indeed totally fab--no one should see this new documentary as any sort of overkill, as much has happened since then. Everybody got older! Aided by the participation of nearly everyone relevant in today's Who world--including Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, manager Bill Curbishley, Keith Moon's replacement Kenney Jones, and, of course, Eddie Vedder--this 2-DVD set is very well done and worth watching if you're looking for new Who DVDs! And "who" isn't?

Moby Grape: '69 (Sundazed) In the world of extremely cool reissues, you'd be well advised to pick up this new version of legendary San Francisco band Moby Grape's third album, as legal problems have kept most of their releases out of print for years. Though common critical wisdom is that the quintet's first album is their finest, I'm sort of partial to this one. It comes with seven bonus tracks and hopefully will remain available for some time. Shame about the kinky title, though!

Cassidy: B.A.R.S. (Full Surface/J) The modern-day maestro responsible for "My Drink N' My 2 Step," Cassidy appears here with every possible name you would imagine--will.i.am, Kanye West, Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, Lil Wayne--making it appear as if the goal were to sell as many albums as possible based purely on the fame of his associates! And that couldn't be! But with the appearance of other guests, including Mya, Angie Stone and Eve, it all becomes clear: Apparently album title "B.A.R.S" is an acronym for "Broads Are Really Sweet" and this album is a love letter of sorts to the fairer sex! Yeah, that has to be the answer! Whew!

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