Vets stay strong, improve positions

Slow and steady won the race in the album charts this week as a number of returning contenders posted solid gains amid a dearth of new titles.

But the seventh installment of the “Now That’s What I Call Music” compilation series (Virgin) once again proved itself a veritable ATM for the music industry, keeping the No. 1 spot and shifting 278,000 units, according to SoundScan data.

Precocious R&B talent Alicia Keys extended her Cinderella performance on the charts in the latest outing: While sales of her J Records debut, “Songs in A Minor,” ebbed slightly, the record leapt from sixth place back to second, shunting ‘N Sync’s “Celebrity” (Jive) to third.

‘Pie’ hits the spot

Several other chart vets also took advantage of the slow debut week to improve their positions. The Soundtrack to teen laffer “American Pie 2″ (Universal) more than doubled its sales and shot up 19 places to seventh, drawing strength from the film’s boffo opening week.

The sleeper hit “O Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack (Lost Highway) moved up four spots to 11, posting a sales gain of 26%. The unprecedented success of the bluegrass-themed “O Brother” also brought a windfall for some of its most prominent contributors: “New Favorite” (Rounder) from Alison Krauss and Union Station debuted this week at 35, scanning a formidable 38,000 discs.

Meanwhile, alt metalers Alien Ant Farm continued to parlay the buzz surrounding their cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” into cold, hard cash: “Anthology” (Dreamworks) held fast at 12 but boosted sales by 17%.

Feeling glad

And the eponymous Virgin album from cartoon concept band Gorillaz kept up its steady gains as well, climbing five places to 16 and sending 20% more out the door.

The highest-placing new release for the week was “Ozzfest 2001: The Second Millennium” (Epic), a live album chronicling the latest outing of Ozzy Osbourne’s bone-crunching metal tour, at 25. “Ozzfest,” which features live tracks by Slipknot, Disturbed and Linkin Park, among others, moved 52,000 units.

Coming in three places behind the headbangers was the “2001 Source Hip-Hop Music Awards” commemorative disc (Def Jam). LP, which includes work from Outkast, Snoop Dogg and the Wu-Tang Clan, sold 43,000 copies.

The coming week should see a little more action from the new-release slate: Upcoming albums from Columbia’s R&B heartthrob Maxwell and New Orleans rapper Juvenile stand a fighting chance of opening in the top five.

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