Maxwell tops chart; grieving fans boost Aaliyah disc

Fans mourning the untimely loss of R&B talent Aaliyah in a plane crash Saturday gave the 22-year-old singer’s eponymous third release a significant bump in the album charts this week.

“Aaliyah” (Virgin) leapt ahead eight places to 19 as sales swelled by 41%, according to SoundScan data. The singer, who died along with eight others en route from the Bahamas to Florida, is to be laid to rest this week in her native New York.

‘Now’ and again

Meanwhile , at the top of the charts there was a pitched battle between “Now” and “Now” for the prime real estate and, in a surprise upset, “Now” emerged victorious.

To be precise, “Now” (Columbia), the latest effort by R&B act Maxwell, opened at No. 1, finally unseating the seventh installment of the mega-hit “Now” compilation series. Maxwell’s third studio LP scanned 296,000 copies, marking it the heartthrob singer’s best opening week to date.

The winning “Now” was followed closely by “Project English” (Uptown/Universal), the sixth album from New Orleans rapper and Cash Money Crew member Juvenile, at No. 2. “Project” shifted just over 213,000 discs at retail this week.

The two formidable debuts conspired to shunt “Now 7″ (Virgin) into third place, with 212,000 scanned. But the hit-laden compilation, two of whose predecessors remain on the top 200 this week, still has managed to sell more than 1.5 million units to date.

Little movement

Retail activity for the remainder of the Top 10 slowed in the latest session, with few titles changing position and sales for returning performers ebbing by an average of more than 12%.

The only other debut to crack the Top 50 this week was a surprisingly strong offering from budding California hard-rock outfit Adema, whose self-titled Arista debut bowed at 27.

Success of the band, which has close ties to such other heavy-hitters in the genre as Staind, Korn and Orgy, reps a minor victory for Arista and its topper, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, who had been under pressure to produce hits for the label outside of rap and R&B.

Further down the ranks, at 71, was “Just Be Free” a controversial reissue of early demos from pop uber-diva Christina Aguilera. Last May, Aguilera sued Warlock Records, which released the disc, in an effort to prevent it from seeing the light of day. “Free” scanned 20,000 copies in its debut week.

Next week’s star player will almost certainly be shock-metal group Slipknot, whose sophomore LP “Iowa” (Roadrunner) looks like a lead contender for No. 1. Also on deck are new releases from vet R&B artists Mary J. Blige and Brian McKnight.

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