NEW YORK (Billboard) - Amid so many posers in her wake, Avril Lavigne has taken her time, stepped back and maintained her integrity, waiting for the appropriate moment to return.
Soundtrack song in between albums? (Next is due in April.) Ideal. “Keep Holding On,” from fantasy flick “Eragon,” due December 15, meshes her authentic lived-it (albeit still youthful) vocal signature with an uncharacteristic orchestral arrangement and anthemic pop chorus (“Keep holding on, cause you know I’ll make it through/Just stay strong, cause you know I’m here for you”). The result sounds like cross-format sustenance. Industrywise, Lavigne is riding the delicate border between Top 40 babe and adult Top 40 mainstay ... Here, she commands both sides. Gorgeous song, probably requiring an edgy video, but in any case, it sounds like she is set to remain for the long term.
ARTIST: BROOKS & DUNN
SINGLE: HILLBILLY DELUXE (Arista Nashville)
Brooks & Dunn’s “Hillbilly Deluxe” already has spawned the Country Music Assn. Award-winning single and song of the year “Believe” and the soulful hit “Building Bridges.” This time, country’s top duo offers the album’s title track to remind radio just how skilled it is at delivering a hard-charging honky-tonk anthem. The song oozes with backwoods charm and grit. Dunn’s vocal firepower fuels this hot remix by the talented Judson Spence. Dunn makes hillbilly life sound so inviting, everyone will want to hit the back roads.
SINGLE: SAY IT RIGHT (Geffen Records)
What happened? Nelly Furtado’s “Maneater,” the best hip-pop anthem of the year — and fortifying follow-up to annoying No. 1 “Promiscuous,” as well as a chart-topper in Europe — was whisked out of the running on radio before its joyous tribal beats even had the chance to be heard. Suddenly Geffen is instead pushing “Say It Right,” a perfectly suitable track but hardly the stuff of urban legend. Again, Furtado proves the art of reinvention, with a Pussycat Dolls-inspired contempo jam, high on hooks and of-the-moment production. Well done, if in the most generic sense. “Say” is a great radio jam, but for Furtado’s two steps forward, this is three steps back in terms of artist singularity.
SINGLE: WHAT IF I’M RIGHT (Columbia Records)
A nostalgic a cappella lament, Sandi Thom’s U.K. hit “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker” galvanized adult alternative album radio but failed to cross over to top 40. Kicking off with an uplifting folk-pop groove, her second single casts the Scottish singer in the role of skeptic lover, unable to believe in her own romantic dreams: “You’ll be strong/And you’ll turn me on/But I’ve got my doubts and what if I’m right?” she sings playfully in a sun-kissed voice that is beautifully clear. What “the girl who webcast to the world” lacks is the raw, foot-stomping energy of a KT Tunstall, which is needed to tear up the charts with an acoustic guitar. In Thom’s innocent world, we have to settle for hand-clapping.
SINGLE: HOW LONG (Universal)
The rebirth of testosterone-driven, emo-free arena rock is in full swing, with Hinder’s power ballad “Lips of an Angel” sticking to the top five of the Billboard Hot 100 like a fresh tattoo. Follow-up “How Long” is a two-punch tale of love gone wrong that makes clear that this year’s rock sensation is more than just a Nickelback facsimile. Launching with a giant, Jagermeister-fueled hook that spills into crunching guitars, the rocker has a visceral live sound and showcases Austin Winkler’s raucous vocals, which are more volcanic than Chad Kroeger’s sentimental roar. Here are the true heirs of pop metal: melody-focused, hard-rocking and fun-loving, unapologetically feeding on rock’s most precious cliches.
SINGLE: IT’S NOT OVER (RCA Records)
If there ever was a fitting title to a song, Chris Daughtry may have nailed it by naming the first single from his band Daughtry’s debut album “It’s Not Over.” If you recall, voters discarded him in the closing stages of “American Idol” during season five, to the dismay of hundreds of thousands of fans. Guess who gets the last laugh? Tight, focused and ready to rock your face off, launch single “It’s Not Over” overflows with harmonies and axe leads that suck you in out of the box. If you’re not doing that neck-bobbing spastic reflex after one listen, check your pulse. Oh, and wait until you feast your eyes on this band’s live show. “Idol,” schmidol. The man and his band have scored a hit.
SINGLE: LOVE’S THE ONLY DRUG (Silver Label/Tommy Boy)
Just try sitting this one out. We dare you. Club veteran Ultra Nate’s new single finds the singer stepping back to a time when Grace Jones and Roxy Music ruled dance floors. But like Gnarls Barkley and Hot Chip, Nate looks to the past purely for inspiration. Surrounding her huskier-than-usual vocals are present-day thick beats and an even thicker bassline. Jagged synth patterns effortlessly keep all the elements in check. And that’s just the original version. The remixes of this song — and there are many — have been universally championed by club DJs. Last week, the track climbed to No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart. A tasty look into Nate’s forthcoming (fifth) album, “Grime, Silk and Thunder,” “Love’s the Only Drug” spotlights an artist who is walking proudly into the future.