Last week was so bereft of quality releases that you knew there was going to be an overflow this week. How fitting that my last new release Tuesday in NYC is going to find me spending a LOT of money!! Here’s the hotlist:

Madonna “Hard Candy”: Madge is back, she’s dropping the final album on her Warner Brothers contract, and she’s finally dropped the electronic flavorings that she’s favored for the last decade in favor of the R&B-leaning pop that she began her career with. Of course, working with Reggie Lucas, Chic and Jellybean Benitez in ’83 means working with Timbaland, Pharrell and Kanye West in 2008. It’s certainly not her first flirtation with hip-hop/R&B (see “Bedtime Stories” and “Erotica”), and if lead single “4 Minutes” is any indication, we might be getting the best Madonna album since “Ray of Light”. Not bad for a 49-year old mother of three, eh?

The Roots “Rising Down”: Another act wrapping up their contract, The Roots are ending their ill-fated tenure on Def Jam with a bang. “Rising Down” is a pointedly political work (which means that it will be severely bungled by the Def Jam folks), featuring cameos by Roots album mainstays like Mos Def and Talib Kweli. Interestingly enough, the most commercial song on the album (“Birthday Girl”, which features Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump) was ultimately dropped from the album because it didn’t fit thematically. Well, thematic continuity or no, The Roots’ creative resume is damn near impeccable, and their last three studio albums have been almost perfect, so great things are expected from me on this one.

Portishead “Third”: Anchored by the sultry/creepy vocals of Beth Gibbons, Portishead helped kick off the British trip-hop movement with 1994’s classic album “Dummy”, an album that still gets heavy rotation in my CD player. After a 10 year absence, Beth and instrumentalist Geoff Barrow are back. Although the reviews I’ve read of the album have been almost uniformly awful (and Barrow has not made any friends in the press, slinging darts at the likes of Danger Mouse and Prince), I’m still interested to hear what the duo has come up with after so long apart.

Estelle “Shine”: Estelle also comes from across the pond. The young singer is the first artist released on John Legend’s Homeschool Records. Given Legend’s star power (and the industry’s current fixation with British female vocalists), it’s no surprise that Estelle’s debut features a star-studded cast including Kanye West, and Mark Ronson. First single “American Boy” is cute enough and has gotten a pretty good buzz. Can Estelle follow in the (musical, not personal) footsteps of Brit divas like Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen?

Robyn “Robyn”: I posted a blurb about Robyn a month or two back, when “The Rakamonie EP” was released, and her self-titled full-length album (her first American release in a decade…what is UP with some of these artists) hits stores today. Most of you who remember her obviously do so from the singles “Show Me Love” (not to be confused with house music diva Robin S., who *also* had a 90s hit called “Show Me Love”) and “Do You Know (What It Takes)”. Well, she’s grown up, she has an attitude problem, and she’s making some of the best pure pop music around right now. She’s kinda like Fergie, only GOOD.

And that’s not it, folks!!! Augustana try to stave off one-hit wonderdom with their sophomore release, “Can’t Hurt, Can’t Love”, Def Leppard’s “Songs From The Sparkle Lounge” is their latest attempt to stave off irrelevance, former neo-soul guitarist/vocalist Lyfe Jennings offers a more commercial side on “Lyfe Change”, complete with T.I. and Snoop Dogg cameos, teenage girl rapper Lil’ Mama’s debut FINALLY hits stores a year after “Lip Gloss” became a Top 10 hit, British soul singer (and critical fave) Jamie Lidell drops “Jim” today, Mudcrutch (the band that eventually became Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) release their self-titled debut today (which may be this week’s sleeper hit), we have new albums from punk legends Mindless Self Indulgence and rock en espanol legends Mana, rock legend Steve Winwood (fresh off a tour with Eric Clapton)and hipster fave Santogold.

Damn. Do you think folks could have thrown some of this stuff into last week when there was nothing out worth mentioning? Geez.

Happy shopping!!

Oh…and get a complete list of this week’s releases here: