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Ludacris lifts off

'Release' is rapper's third to reach top

Ludacris’ “Release Therapy” emerged the victor on the nation’s album sales chart, debuting at No. 1 on a week packed with rookies getting in under the Grammy Award eligibility wire.

“Release Therapy” (Disturbing Tha Peace/Island Def Jam) sold 309,000 copies in the week ended Sunday, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Album’s first single, “Money Maker” featuring Pharrell (and produced by the Neptunes), is the No. 1 R&B/hip-hop track and is growing on pop radio. Song has been selling 100,000 ringtones a week.

Album is Ludacris’ third disc in a row to hit No. 1; “The Red Light District” topped the charts in 2004 and “Chicken-N-Beer” did it in 2003.

Album beat the contender pegged for the top slot, Janet Jackson’s “20 Y.O.” (Virgin), which sold 296,000 copies. Jackson’s album was her seventh to land in the top three. Her last, “Damito Jo,” released in 2004 soon after her Super Bowl fiasco, opened at No. 2 on sales of 381,000.

Ludacris and Jackson discs were two of 13 debuts in the top 50.

Tony Bennett’s “Duets: American Classic” (Columbia), which marks the singer’s 80th birthday, sold 202,000 to hit No. 3 — the highest he’s ever landed on the pop album chart. Bennett has hit No. 5 twice, with “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in 1962 and “I Want to Be Around” in 1963. (The singer has topped the jazz charts many times in the last 49 years.)

Alan Jackson’s 16th album, “Like Red on a Rose” (Arista Nashville), took fourth place on sales of 149,000. Jackson is about to embark on a heavy TV promo tour, appearing Sunday on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “Late Show With David Letterman” on Oct. 12 and NBC’s “Today” on Oct. 13.

Weird Al Yankovic scored a career high in chart position and sales, debuting at No. 10 and selling 73,000 copies of “Straight Outta Lynwood” (Volcano). Of his previous 11 releases, 1996’s “Bad Hair Day” had secured his previous highest position, No. 14.

The fourth album from Christian singer Chris Tomlin, “See the Morning” (Sparrow), debuted at No. 15 on sales of 47,000. The sophomore effort from Scissor Sisters, “Ta-Dah” (Universal) sold 42,000 to open at No. 19.

The self-titled debut from Capitol screamo act Saosin sold 35,000 (No. 22), and “V,” the Hollywood Records debut from “High School Musical’s” Vanessa Anne Hudgens, matriculated with 34,000 (No. 24).

With “Last Man Standing,” Jerry Lee Lewis returns to the pop album chart for the first time in 27 years. The Artists First release, featuring appearances from two dozen rock and country stars, among them Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Page and Mick Jagger, sold 34,000 copies to debut at No. 26. That position is the best of his career for a pop album; his last country top 40 occurred in 1980, when “Two Worlds Collide” reached No. 32.

Other debuts included reggaeton act Luney Tunes & Tainy’s “Los Benjamins,” which sold 32,000 (No. 30); Dave Matthews Band’s “Vol. 6 — Live Trax 7/7-7/8/2006” (RCA) selling 26,000 (No. 37); and saxophonist Boney James’ first album for Concord after years with Warner Bros., “Sine,” selling 19,000 (No. 44).

Mario Vazquez, the “American Idol” dropout who signed with BMG’s Arista imprint, sold 12,000 copies of his self-titled debut to open at No. 80. “Leavin’ ” (Verve), Natalie Cole’s return to modern R&B, sold 10,000 and debuted at No. 97.

Last week’s No. 1, Justin Timberlake’s “FutureSex/Love Sounds” (Jive) slid to No. 5 on sales of 147,000.

Because a major retailer did not report in time to SoundScan last week, a number of chart positions were adjusted. Most significantly, Lupe Fiasco’s “Food & Liquor” (Atlantic) sold 81,000 to push its debut to No. 8, one slot ahead of Chingy’s “Hoodstar,” which sold 77,000. Fiasco’s disc was therefore the bestselling rap album in the country last week.

Fergie’s “Duchess” was off by 16,000, making her debut week total 158,000; Timberlake’s disc had 111,000 sales not tabulated to push his second week number to 228,000; Kenny Chesney’s “Live Those Songs Again” actually sold 146,000, about 9,000 more than what was reported last week; Audioslave’s “Revelations” was shorted 4,000 sales and was actually at 31,000; and Fray’s “How to Save a Life” was boosted by 3,000 to 54,000.

Tallies for Bob Dylan’s “Modern Times” and Bob Seger’s “Face the Promise” were trimmed by about a thousand copies from estimated sales.

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