A ton of stuff in stores today. Let’s check out some of the highlights.

Pearl Jam “Backspacer”: The most successful rock band of the Nineties haven’t lost a step since their heyday. Their self-titled last album (which was the first PJ album I’d actually listened to in half a decade) was pretty damn good. The band still plays with a sense of purpose after all these years. “Backspacer” is their first album since they’ve gone independent (after a one-album jaunt on J Records) and the reviews have been glowing. Backing away from the overtly political lyrics that have been their mainstay for at least their last two albums, reports are saying that this is the most lighthearted, fun album Pearl Jam has ever recorded. Count me in as interested. FYI, folks. This album is only being sold at Target stores and at your local indie retailer…which means no FYE, Best Buy or Wal-Mart. Support your local indie retailer! We’ve gotta keep these folks in business!

David Gray “Draw the Line”: Also making a label switch is this Welsh singer/songwriter, who casual fans might remember from his huge 2000 hit album “White Ladder” and its’ hit singles “Babylon” and “Please Forgive Me”. While his album sales have tailed off since (then again, so have everyone else’s!), his musicĀ  has remained intensely personal and powerful. After almost a decade on Dave Matthews’ ATO Records, Gray moves over to Downtown Records-home of Gnarls Barkley and Mos Def, among others. “Draw the Line” apparently does away with most of the electronic touches that permeated his last few records in favor of a full band sound. The album also has a cameo from Annie Lennox, which is enough to get me to plunk my cash down on anything.

The lovely guys and girls at Popdose have reviewed “Draw the Line”: you can find that review here. There’s also an excellent interview with Gray elsewhere on the site.

John Forte “Style Free EP”: John Forte was an associate of Wyclef Jean and The Fugees, appearing on their smash album “The Score” and on Wyclef’s debut album “Carnival”. The nasally-voiced rapper guest-starred on several other records and had a minor hit with “Ninety Nine (Flash the Message)”, which you might remember due to the fact that it sampled Nena’s “99 Luftballons”. Anyway, Forte was arrested and jailed a few years back for intent to distribute cocaine. His jail sentence was commuted by former President Bush and Forte was released shortly before Christmas last year. While not being too sure of the circumstances of his arrest and sentence, Forte is definitely NOT a gangsta rapper, and actually, it doesn’t appear he’s doing much rapping at all these days. “Style Free” is an EP that features Forte singing and playing guitar. This guy’s a true talent, definitely check him out.

This isn’t on the album, but check out Forte and Talib Kweli’s excellent version of Kanye West’s “Homecoming”

Brother Ali “Us”: My friends have been trying to get me to give this guy a chance for years. He’s received so much glowing press that I think this will be the album on which I finally give in. A powerful, passionate emcee (who happens to be white and albino), he’s one of the darlings of the hipster-hop community. His new album, “Us”, features cameos from Chuck D. and Freeway. If Chuck is co-signing this dude, he’s gotta be good, right?

Elsewhere, there are new albums arriving from Harry Connick Jr., electronic favorites Basement Jaxx, Yoko Ono, Vertical Horizon (yes, they’re still around), campy British act Mika and reggae/pop star Sean Kingston. Also in stores today is an album called “Monsters of Folk”, a supergroup of sorts containing M. Ward, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James (as his alter ego Yim Yames) and Conor (Bright Eyes) Oberst.

Oh yeah, and there’s a new Michael Bolton album out, too-apparently featuring Ne-Yo and Lady GaGa. Who blackmailed those two into appearing on a Bolton record?

As always, get your full list of this week’s releases from the good folks at Pause and Play here.