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Christina Aguilera

Back to Basics

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RCA

For years, Christina Aguilera has been playing the bridesmaid role to Britney Spears. (Remember, Christina tongued Madonna, too.) However, it appears as though that's about to change, with Spears' celebrity seemingly based more in paparazzi sightings than actual music. More importantly, we always knew Aguilera had superior vocal talent, but just needed to add the sizzle. Three years have passed since the clothes came off with Stripped, and the diminutive singer added sex appeal to her game. For her latest effort, the double-disc Back to Basics plays like an R&B ride through the musical spectrum with party tunes ("Still Dirrty"), gospel anthems ("Makes Me Wanna Pray") and nightclub balladry ("Mercy on Me"), further distancing Aguilera from her teen-based pop past. John Benson Jennifer O'Connor

Over the Mountain, Across the Valley and Back to the Stars

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Matador

Jennifer O'Connor has some well-intended preconceptions to overcome. Time Out hailed her as "Another Liz Phair or Elliott Smith waiting to happen," a reference that's almost foreboding; not only is she not entrenched in Smith's weepiness, and, well, death, but she shows no inclination toward Phair's own decline into disappointing pop. Something earthier is afoot on Over the Mountain, and this organic approach anchors the album. Sure, she's working a relatively solo career, but other players show up to flesh out the CD: Yo La Tengo's James McNew and Sparklehorse's Kendall Meade, among others. The effect is a soothing, yet engaging, album. Tracks like "Century Estates" and "Sister" are tempered by O'Connor's quiet, husky voice, while "Complicated Rhyme" brandishes up-tempo Latin rhythms. Kara Luger Breaking Benjamin

Phobia

Hollywood

Just like pizza has to be really bad for you to notice, rock act Breaking Benjamin really has to put out a stinker for diehard fans to jump ship. Similar in mindset to AC/DC, which does one thing and does it really well over and over again, album and album again this Pennsylvania outfit continues its string of easily accessible post-grunge rock on its third effort, Phobia. One can imagine the next year will find rock radio embracing such anthems as the in-your-face "The Diary of Jane" and the mid-tempo "Dance with the Devil." While "Phobia" isn't likely to expand the band's fan base, the 13-track release serves its intended purpose, which is to dish out one slice of predictable rock at a time. John Benson

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