Sound Check: Spearhead, Me'Shell NdegeOcello

POLITICS, RAP, SOUL: Politically minded rapper Michael Franti will release his first album in four years with rap act Spearhead. Stay Human, due out May 15 through Six Degrees Records, is a concept album based around an imaginary broadcast from a community radio station covering the pending execution of a black activist on death row.

ANOTHER STAB: Hard rock act Stabbing Westward has completed work on its fourth album, which will be self-titled, and it's slated for a May 22 release through Koch Records. The band, which topped the rock charts with the ubiquitous 1995 hit "Save Yourself," worked with Pulp producer Ed Buller.

SOUND IT OUT: Me'Shell NdegeOcello is at work in the studio, recording a follow-up to her acclaimed 1999 album of laid-back funk, Bitter. The singer recently previewed some of the songs at a show in Los Angeles — but the disc won't be out until Sept. 11, through Maverick Records.

JUST MICHELLE: A newer act on Maverick, Arizona singer-songwriter Michelle Branch, is working in the studio with producer John Shanks (Melissa Etheridge) to record a new album. Branch has performed with numerous Latin and jazz artists, including Tito Puente, Diana Krall, and Chick Corea, and four songs from a previous album, Broken Bracelet, were used on ABC television show Wasteland.

NOT UNUSUAL: Welsh singer Tom Jones teamed with Swedish pop act The Cardigans to record a cover of the Talking Heads classic "Burning Down the House" — which will be the first song on the soundtrack to Someone Like You. The 10-song collection, due out April 3 from TVT Records, also includes unreleased material from Wynonna Judd and Taj Mahal & the Phantom Blues Band.

MIXED GOO: Pop-rock band the Goo Goo Dolls, who last struck with Dizzy Up the Girl in 1998, will release Ego, Opinion, Art, & Commerce in May through Third Rail/Hollywood Records. The 22-track compilation includes remixed material never released Stateside.

FOR REAL: Contemporary soul artist Ginuwine will launch his third album, The Life, April 3 on Epic Records. Rapper Ludacris and producer Timbaland lend their touches to several tracks. The album's first single, "There It Is," has risen to No. 30 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.

WAITING FOR A BREAK: Miami rock band Darwin's Waiting Room got an unexpected chance to promote its debut album, Orphan. The hard rock act replaced Orgy on Papa Roach's Raid the Nation tour, after Orgy guitarist Amir Derakh came down with mono. Orphan, which features 11 songs produced by Jason Bieler (Saigon Kick), is due June 19 on MCA Records.

PLAY PALS: Though he reportedly turned down collaboration offers with Madonna and New Order, knob-twister Moby recorded five songs in New York with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, according to music magazine NME. Ellis-Bextor scored an international hit last year with "Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)," and Moby, who is also working on his own album, is apparently a fan. The Ellis-Bextor album is due in June in the United Kingdom.

NEW SABBATH: The original members of seminal metal band Black Sabbath will record material for an upcoming album following their stint on the Ozzfest 2001 tour. The reunited group will head into the studio in the fall with producer Rick Rubin to work on its first set of original music since Never Say Die in 1978.

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