It looks like the quality of music releases will be picking up a little bit this summer, with everyone from Coldplay to Robin Thicke putting albums out. The season kicks off with a bang, as the long-awaited follow up to the biggest selling album of the past five years or so hits stores.

Usher-Here I Stand: Did Justin Timberlake make people forget about Usher? I don’t think so, but JT has gotten the lion’s share of accolades and publicity even though Ush’s last album, “Confessions”, sold double the amount TImberlake’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds” did. “Confessions” is also the most recently released album to be certified diamond (for shipments of 10 million copies) and it was the last album to sell over a million units in it’s first week…not to mention it was a better album. All this to say, Usher is the *real* current King of Pop, and “Here I Stand” is much more highly anticipated than folks may think. He’s already scored a #1 with “Love in This Club”, and “Here I Stand” is supposed to be a trip through the mind of a married family man. Let’s see if Mr. Raymond can jolt some life into a depressed industry.

Al Green-Lay it Down: I’ve had this argument with many a friend. Who’s the greatest soul singer of all time? Whether the mention goes to Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder, Al Green is a name that always makes it into the Top 2 or 3. Reverend Al has the smoothest voice in musical history, sounding like butter melting atop a stack of pancakes. After a handful of stabs at contemporary pop & R&B, Al has settled into a comfortable recording routine, and “Lay it Down” is his third album in the last five years. The production is handled by The Roots’ Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and James Poyser, who promise to bring an organic, sympathetic sound to Al’s music. Regardless of the production, anything Al utters is worth hearing. Guests include Anthony Hamilton, John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae.

Cyndi Lauper “Bring Ya To the Brink”: Although she didn’t quite deliver on the promise set by her 1984 debut, “She’s So Unusual”, Cyndi Lauper has created quite an interesting body of work over the past quarter-century, dabbling in styles ranging from rock-etched material to standards. “Brink” finds Cyndi hitting the dance floors hard. She’s no Al Green, but she does have one of the most distinctive and powerful voices of any female singer around, and everyone needs a good danceable album for the warm weather, so this album might be worth checking out!

Elsewhere, rootsy singer/songwriter John Hiatt returns with “Same Old Man”, electronic/ambient combo Spiritualized resurface after a half decade with “Songs in A&E”, and the soundtrack to “Sex & The City” hits stores, featuring tracks from the aforementioned Al Green as well as artists ranging from Fergie and Jennifer Hudson to Jem and Joss Stone.

Happy shopping!

Oh: get your full list of this week’s releases here: