Fall Preview: Music

'Graduation,' Kanye West, 9/11: West's third record drops the same day rival rapper 50 Cent releases his new CD. A showdown has ensued (naturally), and 50 has vowed to quit the rap game forever if West outsells him (country crooner Kenny Chesney has also thrown his Stetson in the ring, but no one seems to have noticed). Judging from the West songs we've heard, 50 should start checking the want ads. West once again pushes the creative limits of hip-hop (reinterpreting '80s synth-pop, morphing club beats with chamber music) and enlists performers as varied as esoteric rapper Mos Def, Coldplay's Chris Martin and sensitive billionaire folkie John Mayer. Another groundbreaking moment for West that may mark the beginning of 50's career as MC Infomercial.

'Proof Of Youth,' The Go! Team, 9/11: This English outfit bounces between eras and styles with an effervescent zeal we haven't seen since Fatboy Slim. Funky instrumentals are peppered with fervent exclamations ("Hey!" "Yeah!") while tracks with vocals include impromptu raps by guests such as Public Enemy's Chuck D. The best part? The Go! Team avoid the snide irony that often plagues genre-jumping indie bands and focus on what matters: having fun.

'The Art Of Love & War,' Angie Stone, 10/16: Though Stone is one of the strongest soul singers to come along in decades, she'll still have to channel her inner Aretha to compete with upcoming CDs by neosoulstress Jill Scott, Dreamgirl Jennifer Hudson and MTV diva Alicia Keys. Stone's edge? Her leagues-above voice and commercialism-be-damned attitude. Stone's powerful delivery and raw, emotive songs definitely command some major R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
 
'Magic,' Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band,10/2: This is the Jersey icon's first collaboration with his band since 2002's "The Rising." The new album is reportedly Springsteen's return to rock and roll after various forays away from his fist-in-the-air roots (i.e., the folk-inspired "The Seeger Sessions"). While avid Boss fans will surely revel in each new blue-collar anthem, everyone else can get their kicks listening to "The Sopranos' " Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) kill—on guitar.

'Song Of America', Janet Reno and various artists, 9/18: No need to panic—the former attorney general does not sing or even rap here. But she is the mastermind behind this collection of classics that tells the story of America through song. The three-CD set is full of ditties we've all been forced to sing at summer camp ("Yankee Doodle," "Home on the Range") revamped by artists such as John Mellencamp and the Black Crowes.

'Brave,' Jennifer Lopez, 10/9: Don't be fooled by the Spanish albums she's dropped; she's still J. Lo from the lucrative world of pop. Judging by the first single and all the megaproducers here—Timbaland (whose album isn't he on?), Jermaine Dupri—it'll be a superstylized collection of remix-worthy club numbers and sappy-but-huge R&B ballads. It's a valiant effort to shine before new CDs by Mariah and Madonna wipe her off the map.

Carrie Underwood (No title yet), 10/23: After winning season four of "American Idol," Underwood lost weight, gained a Dallas Cowboy, landed five No. 1 hits and royally ticked off Faith Hill when Underwood won female vocalist of the year at the Country Music Awards last year. (And it takes a special someone to make Hill seem like the bad girl of country music.) Underwood's mojo hasn't stopped: she's just broken a record with her new single, "So Small," which achieved the highest chart entry by a solo country female in Nielsen history. Take that, Hill—and Kelly Clarkson.

James Blunt, 'All the Lost Souls,' 9/18: Just when it seemed safe to enter Starbucks again, this earnest singer-songwriter is back with a follow-up to one of the whiniest debuts ever made. Blunt claims his new CD "illuminates his growth as an artist and a person." We're not saying that breaking up with a supermodel (a.k.a. Petra Nemcova) wouldn't offer much in the way of potential for growth, but we're not saying it would, either.

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