In an otherwise slow week, piano man Billy Joel maintained his hold on the peak of the nation’s album sales chart, while upstart rock group Blind Melon continued its march toward the top.

According to figures released Wednesday by SoundScan, “River of Dreams,” the latest Columbia entry from Joel, sold more than 156,000 copies last week, outdistancing the Epic-issued “Sleepless in Seattle” soundtrack, which moved 116 ,000 units.

Joel’s appearance as the first musical guest on David Letterman’s new “Late Show” should help power next week’s sales figures, but even with Dave’s help, Joel probably won’t be able to hold off Mariah Carey, whose new Columbia collection, “Music Box,” will almost certainly bow in the top spot.

Besides “Music Box,” new releases from superstars John Mellencamp, the Scorpions and Nirvana are expected to have an impact on the upper reaches of the chart in the next few weeks.

Blind Melon’s self-titled Capitol debut sold another 108,000 copies for the week, good enough for No. 3 on the tally. Janet Jackson’s Virgin issue, “janet., ” holds at No. 4, while “Black Sunday,” the Columbia release from L.A. hip-hoppers Cypress Hill, slips to No. 5.

The highest-charting debut of the week comes from Warner Bros.’ adult/R&B act Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, whose “Back to Basics” collection sold 25,000 copies, good enough for No. 37. Other chart bows include “The Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration” on Columbia, in at 40; Loud/RCA rappers Tha Alkaholiks with “21 & Over,” entering at No. 124; and Randy Travis’ latest on Warner Bros., “Wind in the Wire,” which blows in at No. 133.

Promising Bay Area alternative/rock group Cracker debuts at a disappointing No. 184 with its second Virgin album, “Kerosene Hat.”

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