McGraw's No. 2 as holidays fuel CD sales

Shania Twain clung to the top spot in the album rankings for a second week running, beating off a formidable challenge from fellow country twanger Tim McGraw as the holiday-sales season continued to build momentum.

Strong sales numbers virtually across the board in the latest session marked a rare bit of good news for record execs, who have been suffering through a brutal downturn in revenues over the past year. Year-to-date, album sales have slumped by more than 11%, according to Nielsen Soundscan data.

Twain’s fourth studio album, “Up!” (Mercury Nashville), was in fact down this week — sales fell about 28% from her debut outing to just under 626,000 units. But the country blockbuster has nevertheless managed to sell a stunning 1.5 million copies after just two weeks of release.

Strong bow for McGraw

Meanwhile, McGraw’s “Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors” (Curb) bowed at No. 2, scanning almost 602,000 discs. And claiming third was the soundtrack to Eminem’s film debut, “8 Mile” (Interscope). While the release retained the same rank it held last time around, “8 Mile” managed a healthy 40% gain in sales to 394,000.

Several of the year’s superstar performers got a bump, as holiday record buyers reached for the standards to fill their stockings. Sales of the “Now 11″ (Universal) pop compilation climbed 19% to 375,000, Faith Hill more than doubled sales of “Cry” (Warner Bros.) to 230,000, and BMG’s “Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits” package shot from 65,000 to more than 179,000 — just to name a few.

Good week for most

In fact, of the non-debut discs holding top-20 positions in the chart, only three (including Twain) had sales declines from last week.

The second-highest debut was yet another release from the seemingly inexhaustible trove of posthumous Tupac Shakur material. Rapper, who was slain in Las Vegas six years ago, sold 366,000 copies of the seventh disc released since his death, “Better Dayz” (Interscope).

One spot below Shakur was Jennifer Lopez with her latest studio effort “This Is Me … Then” (Epic) selling more than 314,000 copies in its first sesh — numbers that in a normal week would make Lopez a solid contender for the top spot.

Solid start for McCartney

And bowing in eighth was “Back in the U.S. — Live 2002″ (Capitol) from Paul McCartney. The ex-Beatle pushed 224,000 units out the door his first time out — a particularly impressive feat for a double-CD release of all live material.

Bowing a bit further down on the crowded holiday slate were “Paid Tha Cost to Be Tha Boss” (Priority/MCA) from rapper Snoop Dogg at No. 12, “Steal This Album” (Columbia) from Armenian thrash-rockers System of a Down at 15 and “Dru World Order” (Def Jam) from R&B group Dru Hill at 21.

Making a surprisingly tepid bow at 43 was rapper Busta Rhymes, whose latest disc “It Ain’t Safe No More” (J Records) sold just 62,000 units out of the gate. Rhymes’ prior record, 2001’s “Genesis,” moved three times that many and bowed in seventh in its first week out.

Next week marks the return of diva Mariah Carey, whose new record “Charmbracelet” on her new label Island Def Jam is set to crack into the upper echelons. Also on deck is a second soundtrack CD from “8 Mile,” featuring tracks from Mobb Deep, Outkast and Notorious BIG, among others.

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