New Releases: Young Jeezy, Taylor Hicks, Fantasia, Mary J., AFI & More

Also due Tuesday: Tyrese, Taking Back Sunday, Sonic Youth, Neil Diamond, Duncan Sheik, Ghostface Killah.

With the War on Christmas and the War on the War on Christmas raging on, another holiday is about to begin this weekend: Hanukkah. But while the festival of lights is starting to glow, the number of CD releases is dimming — as it does every year around this time. Young Jeezy, Tyrese, Ghostface and a pair of Idols are hoping you haven’t finished your holiday shopping yet and will be scouting for snowballs as they try to outdo each other with new albums. So before Hanukkah Harry comes a knockin’, let’s light a candle for each of the eight major releases dropping this week:

Oh Jeez: It must be the wintertime, because Da Snowman is about to open his trap. With CD sales so low these days, Young Jeezy deserves extra credit for carrying his 2005 major-label debut, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, to multiplatinum status. Now he hopes to nab another carrot — maybe he can use it as his Snowman nose! — with The Inspiration, the guest list to which puts 101‘s to shame. The 16-track platter features T.I. (“I Got Money”), R. Kelly (“Go Getta”), Keyshia Cole (“Dreamin’ “), Timbaland (“3 A.M.”) and others … feeling inspired?

A Hick Move: So if 63.4 million people voted for Taylor Hicks in the final round of “American Idol,” that means his maiden major-label LP should sell about … 9 minus 6, carry the 1 … well, let’s just say Soul Patrol will be giving Da Snowman a run for his money. Like Jeezy, Hicks has enlisted some hitmaking talent to help him do his self-titled big-time debut up right: Rob Thomas, “Un-Break My Heart” author Diane Warren, producer Matt Serletic (Courtney Love, Santana) and even Bryan “Summer of ’69″ Adams all claim songwriting credits on the LP. With covers of songs made famous by Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye to boot, Hicks might be tasting another #1 prize next week.

Straight From the Barrino: Also doing the whole “Yeah, I won ‘American Idol’ and I’m naming my new J Records album after myself” thing is Fantasia, who in 2004 wore the crown that currently sits atop Hicks’ head. That same year saw her debut, Free Yourself, get platinum honors, a feat the Grammy-winning single mom and Kanye West tourmate hopes to duplicate with Fantasia. This CD is a busy one: Missy Elliott co-wrote and co-produced three tunes; Outkast‘s Big Boi pops in for a visit on “Hood Boy”; Swizz Beatz puts his polish on “Surround U”; Diane Warren, Babyface, Bryan-Michael Cox and Sean Garrett also help out with writing and production; and Fantasia samples songs by James Brown, Al Green and the Supremes throughout.

‘Rese’s Pieces: Topping off J Records’ busy menu this week is Tyrese‘s two-disc Alter Ego, which features his titular Black Ty rap persona. The aforementioned Michael Cox and R. Kelly lend their production skills to this LP as well, although ‘Rese has a boatload of additional help: Lil Jon crops up on “Turn Ya Out” on the first, R&B-centric disc; and on disc two, Snoop Dogg spruces up “Get Low” and “Roll the Dice”; the Game helps Tyrese reminisce about “Ghetto Dayz”; Method Man shows him how to “Get It In”; and David Banner, Mannie Fresh, Kurupt, Lil Scrappy and Too Short prop him up elsewhere.

Something’s Fishy: Ghostface Killah is squaring off against Black Ty and Def Jam labelmate Jeezy with More Fish, which, as the small lettering near the album title leads us to believe, is actually a quasi-collaborative affair with Ghost’s Theodore Unit. The MC’s son, Sun God, who is a member of the crew, also helps out his dad, who is releasing this LP less than 10 months after dropping its predecessor, Fishscale. Underground-hip-hop tastemaker MF Doom produces “Cartoonz” and “Stones From Greece,” the latter of which drops references to the Hardy Boys. Oh, and some guy named Kanye West joins forces with this Ne-Yo dude for a remix of “Back Like That.”

The Hits Just Keep Coming: Now that’s she’s really broken through — and landed oodles of awards and nominations along the way — it’s time for Mary J. Blige to stop and reflect. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul chalks up four new recordings on Reflections (A Retrospective): the opening “Reflections (I Remember),” the single “We Ride (I See the Future),” “You Know” and the John Legend duet “King & Queen.” There are 15 tracks in total — which averages out to one for every year Blige has been recording.

Fire Up the DVD Player: The ever-outré AFI have been exorcising their inner demons for 15 years, but at long last a DVD is coming down the pipe. Shot with a startling 22 cameras at the Long Beach Arena in Southern California on September 15, the 18-song performance by the band balances out to 72 minutes’ worth of goth-a-riffic footage — and includes a guest appearance by Tiger Army‘s Nick 13. For A Fire Inside’s biggest show to date, they let loose with “God Called in Sick Today,” “Death of Seasons,” “Kill Caustic” and “Bleed Black.” Happy Hanukkah.

Also doing the DVD thing for the first time are Taking Back Sunday, whose “Partone” disc (no, not “Part One”) you probably won’t find in the DVD racks. The New York rock quintet are appending their 90-minute video to re-releases of the band’s Louder Now CD, which itself is being furthered with four additional live tracks. Like AFI’s video, the TBS DVD component collects performances from the Long Beach Arena, but also captures the bandmembers at home, in their hotel rooms and beyond. A making-of-the-album feature and behind-the-scenes material from the group’s “MakeDamnSure” video round out the release.

Song Title of the Week:

“Bump What Your Friends Say” from Fantasia

Other Notables:

Sonic Youth‘s The Destroyed Room: B-Sides and Rarities: Pulling together this band’s obscure material is like dumping buckets of water out of a (diamond) sea: No matter how hard you work at it, there will always be more. This disc prudently selects just 11 odds and sods, including the previously unreleased outtake “Fire Engine Dream” and unissued versions of “Three Part Sectional Love Seat” and — coincidentally — “Queen Anne Chair,” as well as Japan-only bonus tunes, soundtrack and compilation cuts and more.

Duncan Sheik‘s “Spring Awakening: A New Musical” soundtrack: The cult-fave singer/songwriter showed off his lofty ambitions with 2001′s Phantom Moon, for which he constructed somewhat elaborate orchestral arrangements with poet/dramatist Steve Sater. But few were prepared for what Sheik threw together a couple of years later: a Broadway musical he wrote with Sater that is based on a controversial 19th-century drama about sex, violence and suicide. The musical backdrop to the theatrical production — which opened Sunday in New York — includes “The Bitch of Living,” “The Word of Your Body” and “I Don’t Do Sadness.”

Various artists‘ “B4MD: Before the Music Dies”: Everyone knows CDs will soon become extinct — but while we’re at it, is pop music on its way out altogether? That’s the hypothesis drawn up in this critical look at the genre, narrated by Forest Whitaker and featuring performances and commentary by Dave Matthews, Erykah Badu, the Roots?uestlove, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, My Morning Jacket, Ray Charles and more. “The reality is that superficiality is in, and depth and quality is kind of out,” Branford Marsalis says in the film. Decide for yourself.

New Releases:

· Fantasia – Fantasia (J) [Buy Now]
Read: “Fantasia Unleashes Her Inner Rock Star: ‘This Time It’s My Own Vision’ “
· Ghostface Killah – More Fish (Def Jam) [Buy Now]
Read: “Ghostface Killah Warms Up Leftover Fish For Second 2006 Album”
· Taylor Hicks – Taylor Hicks (Arista/ 19 Recordings) [Buy Now]
Read: “Taylor Hicks Hopes ‘Traveling Circus Of Fans’ Follows Him On Tour”
· Red Wanting Blue – The Warehouse Sessions (with DVD; self-released)
· Duncan Sheik – “Spring Awakening: A New Musical” soundtrack (Decca Broadway)
· Tyrese – Alter Ego (two CDs; J) [Buy Now]
Read: “Tyrese Gives In To Rap Passion, Plans To ‘Change The World’ With Double LP”
· Young Jeezy – The Inspiration (Def Jam) [Buy Now]
Read: “Jeezy Waiting On Kanye For LP; Addresses Rumors Of Tour With Jay, Nas”
· Various artists – “Charlotte’s Web” soundtrack (Bulletproof)
· Various artists – “Children of Men” soundtrack (Varèse Sarabande)
· Various artists – “Eragon” soundtrack (RCA)

Notable Reissues and Archival Material:

· Ames Brothers – Together (two CDs; Jasmine)
· Barenaked Ladies – Barenaked Ladies Are Me – Deluxe Edition 5.1 (DVD Audio version; Desperation)
· Mary J. Blige – Reflections (A Retrospective) (Geffen) [Buy Now]
Read: “Mary J.’s Greatest-Hits LP Brings Three New Songs, Brushes Off Rumors”
· Neil Diamond – 12 Songs (limited-edition “artist’s cut” with bonus CD; Columbia)
· Kangaroo – Kangaroo (Fallout)
· Ramsey Lewis – Legends of Jazz With Ramsey Lewis (box set with four CDs and four DVDs; LRS)
· Sonic Youth – The Destroyed Room: B-Sides and Rarities (Geffen)
· Taking Back Sunday – Louder Now (limited edition with bonus DVD “Partone”; comes in two different covers; Warner Bros.) [Buy Now]

Music DVDs:

· AFI – “I Heard a Voice – Live From Long Beach Arena” (Interscope)
· Eagles – “Music in Review” (Classic Rock Legends)
· Genesis – “The Definitive Critical Review” (two CDs; Classic Rock Legends)
· Elton John – “Music in Review” (Classic Rock Legends)
· Barry Manilow – “Manilow Live!” (Image)
· Oasis – “The World’s Greatest Albums: The Oasis Phenomenon – The Ultimate Critical Review” (Classic Rock Legends)
· Various artists – “B4MD: Before the Music Dies” (BSide)
· Various artists – “Best of ‘Later … With Jools Holland’ 2000-2006″ (Warner Bros.)

Coming Attractions:

December 19:
· Katharine McPhee – TBD (RCA)
Read: “Katharine McPhee’s LP: A Little Bit Pussycat Dolls, A Little Bit Mariah”
· Mos Def – Tru3 Magic (Geffen) [Buy Now]
· Nas – Hip-Hop Is Dead … The N (Def Jam) [Buy Now]
Read: “MTV News Exclusive: Nas Previews Hip-Hop Is Dead … The N
· Styles P – Time Is Money (Ruff Ryders)
· Trick Daddy – Back by Thug Demand (Atlantic) [Buy Now]
· UGK – Underground Kingz (two CDs; Jive) [Buy Now]
Read: “Ex-Con Pimp C Juiced For UGK Album, Says He Has Lessons To Teach”

December 26:
· Good Charlotte – “Fast Future Generation” DVD (Epic/Daylight)
· N.W.A – The Best of N.W.A: The Strength of Street Knowledge (deluxe version with DVD also available; Capitol/Priority)
· Omarion – 21 (Sony Urban)
Read: “Boy To Man: Omarion Grows Up On The ‘Personal’ 21
· Switchfoot – Oh! Gravity (Columbia)
Read: “Life, Death, Social Entropy? Switchfoot Get Weighty On Oh! Gravity
· Various artists – The Family Values Tour 2006 (Firm)

January 2:
· Various artists – L-Tunes: Music From and Inspired by “The L-Word” (Columbia)
· Carly Simon – Into White (Columbia)
· Unwritten Law – The Hit List (Rocket Science)