John Mellencamp "On the Rural Route 7609, 4 CD Set and Book," Mercury/Island/Universal Music Enterprises

John Mellencamp "On the Rural Route 7609, 4 CD Set and Book," Mercury/Island/Universal Music Enterprises

John Mellencamp blows you away with this book and CD collection that features music, stories and lyrics ranging from 1976, when he became active in the music scene, to 2009, the most recent recording date of the collection. From political declarations to love ballads to telling the intriguing stories of everyday people, the entire collection pulses with life. Mellencamp growls, calls, chants and sings his way through innumerable songs. The musical background is diverse in tempo and style. Still, the tunes flow smoothly together around and over the rocks and mud in the riverbed of Mellencamp's country-boy-come- rock-philopsopher life.

"On the Rural Route 7609" features his popular songs as well as special treats like demo recordings and guest appearances by Joan Baez, Cornell West and more than 20 others. Although all the songs are so familiar that you would swear they are collectively written folk songs, Mellencamp himself wrote almost all of them. But perhaps they were, in essence, written by the public after all: When Mellencamp writes from his soul, the outcome is poignant enough to implicate all of us who have rage in our heads and love in our chests.

This collection is not to be missed. If all you know is "Jack and Diane," dive in and get to know the intense, amazing wisdom and character behind the rock star.

*****Shelton's Single of the Week: "PINK HOUSES"*********

EDITOR'S NOTE: MELLENCAMP'S UNDERSTANDING OF POP MYTHOLOGY IS PHENOMENAL. IF YOU'VE EVER DRIVEN ACROSS THE USA AS I HAVE, YOU PUT TREMENDOUS STOCK IN CULTURAL TOUCHSTONES, SMALL TOWN LIFE AND THE AMERICAN DREAM. HE EXPECTS HIS LISTENERS TO BELIEVE IN SUCH THINGS AS FERVENTLY AS HE DOES. AND IF YOU DON'T, DRIVE SLOWLY ACROSS THIS COUNTRY SO YOU CAN LEARN A LOT AND UNDERSTAND WHY HE'S SUCH A GREAT ARTIST.

Ludacris "Battle of the Sexes," Disturbing Tha Peace/Island Def Jam/Universal

The concept for "Battle of the Sexes" hit some bumps when rapper Shawnna, who was billed to combine efforts with Ludacris in creating this album, changed record labels at the last minute. The result is a solo album by Ludacris with male and female guests alike. But although it's not evenly splitÑthere is certainly more rapping by men than by womenÑ"Battle of the Sexes" manages to incorporate more than the usual number of today's female rap stars into the mix, and they bring it just as hot and harsh as Ludacris.

The sound of the album is clubby, and while it's nothing special or groundbreaking, it can hold its ground in today's world of highly synthesized beats. Ludacris's deep voice contrasts well with his guests' vocals. The album is solely about the subjects of sex and partying, just as you might anticipate. However, Ludacris's good mood, clear desire to please women as well as be pleased, and catchy, storytelling style has managed to create a series of hits throughout the recording. Ludacris saves an album that was forced to change directions at the last minute with the loss of Shawnna's equal contribution (she still appears on the album). His equally-fun-sex-for-all-sexes attitude wins out in the end.

******BEST ALBUM OF THE WEEK*********

Shelton's Single of the Week: "REBELLIOUS LOVE"

EDITOR'S NOTE: BLESSED WITH A KNACK FOR INCREDIBLE RHYMES, A BIG VOICE AND A GRAPHIC ARTIST'S WIDE SCREEN SENSIBILITY, LUDACRIS IS ONE OF THE GREAT ARTISTS OF THE LAST DECADE IN HIP-HOP.

Foreigner "Can't Slow Down/No End in Sight: The Very Best of Foreigner, 2 CD, 1 DVD Set," Rhino/Atlantic/Warner

"Can't Slow Down/No End in Sight" is a comprehensive Foreigner experience composed of two CDs and a DVD. One CD is an album of completely new and original songs, the other CD contains 10 remixed hits from Foreigner's past, and the DVD has live Foreigner footage from concerts, interviews, recording sessions and more.

The entire package will be a treat for lovers of pop rock, since it combines a best-of album, 13 original cuts and DVD goodies. There's nothing extremely different to expect from the original cuts. However, this should be just fine with Foreigner fans who love their straightforward arrangements and traditional rock instruments. Their original lead singer, Lou Gramm, is gone, and the new singer is Kelly Hansen, does his part to uphold the vocals. The lyrics are non-offensive, simple and easy to understand. The album of new songsÑForeigner's first entirely original release in 15 yearsÑhas some tracks that will soon be added to their vast repertoire of familiar classics.

***********LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL*****************

*******Shelton's Single of the Week: "CAN'T SLOW DOWN"**********

EDITOR'S NOTE: THE KEY TO THE BAND'S INCREDIBLE SUCCESS HAS BEEN MAIN MAN MICK JONES. A BATTLE- SCARRED, HIT-SAVVY VETERAN, WHO PLAYED WITH THE ARTFUL ORGAN-ROCK OUTFIT SPOOKY TOOTH BEFORE FOUNDING PLATINUM-SELLING FOREIGNER. JONES IS NOT ONLY A MASTER OF THE HOOK, BUT ALSO A GUITARIST OF UNERRING EFFICIENCY.