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NEW YORK (Billboard) - With success in music, film and TV, Miley Cyrus is a teen triple threat. Since most of that success has fallen under her fictional Hannah Montana Disney franchise, Cyrus is now out to form her own musical identity, co-writing most of her platinum No. 1 album, "Breakout." The album's second single, "Fly on the Wall," finds the singer influenced by Gwen Stefani and Avril Lavigne, while her more experienced (read: older) co-writers wink and inject some '80s new wave influences, a la Blondie and the B-52s, which means fans' parents can join in on the fun, too. Cyrus is still growing into her voice, but she gives a convincing turn as a kick-ass pop/rock chick, especially on the bridge where she gets a chance to let loose.
Ludacris literally puts himself inside a boxing ring on "Undisputed" as retired undefeated boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. coaches him on how to win against any and all challengers. And how: With one punch line after another flawlessly delivered in brazen fashion, it's undeniable that he remains among the best MCs in hip-hop. It's been only two years since his last album, but the music industry has a short memory. So "Undisputed" not only reminds listeners how Ludacris became a champion in rap, but also -- and more important -- why he remains one.
At this point, John Mellencamp has nothin' to prove. With his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year alongside a Grammy Award and 12 other nods, counting hits is beside the point. Previous single "My Sweet Love," featuring Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town, from current folk rock album "Life, Death and Freedom," was a triumph at triple A. Follow-up "Troubled Land" is signature Mellencamp fare -- that means a laid-back vocal and smart lyric: "Stand up and holler, lay down and die/ We can turn up our collars and never try/ Just know the truth is coming, to bring peace to this troubled land." Producer T Bone Burnett conjures an organic landscape, fostering ideal fare for all who connect with music beyond the surface.
After spending 10 years as lead vocalist for Trick Pony, Heidi Newfield successfully broke out with top 15 country hit "Johnny & June." Second single from her top 10 "What Am I Waiting For" CD finds the singer in more familiar territory, with a rollicking country-rock sound. Newfield shows what experience can bring to interpretation, as her whiskey-soaked voice portrays the story of two people who use self-reliance for survival. With so many great female vocalists out there emoting sensuality and heartbreak, it's a nice change of pace to hear a tougher country chick who sounds like she can hang with the boys.
Lifehouse maintains a long string of fast-rising adult top 40 hits with "Broken," the third single from album "Who We Are" and the band's third consecutive top 10 single at the format from the set. The rock ballad takes an introspective look at the fragility of life and has tugged the heartstrings of viewers of TV shows "Grey's Anatomy," "The Hills" and "One Tree Hill." Co-producer Jude Cole's buddy and business partner Kiefer Sutherland takes on directorial duties alongside music video director Frank Borin, as lead singer Jason Wade escapes a disaster zone in a tunnel piled with cars, just one powerful interpretation of the chilling lyrics: "I'm falling apart, I'm barely breathing, with a broken heart that's still beating/In the pain there is healing, in your name I find meaning."
The All-American Rejects can craft solid pop-rock songs, as they demonstrated on the 2005 double-platinum album "Move Along," which spawned two top 10s and one top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. First single "Gives You Hell," from the December 16 release "When the World Comes Down," channels Freddie Mercury with impeccable harmonies and falsetto flair from lead singer Tyson Ritter, as the band slams its instrumental signature and a catchy, antagonizing crowd chorus toward the track's end adds a novel turn.