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The Beatles and Hootie and the Blowfish

From the Beatles’ ”Anthology 2” to Hootie & the Blowfish’s ”Fairweather Johnson”, our spring music preview

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Although the first quarter of 1996 brings an intriguing mix of albums and tours by the hip (Afghan Whigs, Lush) and hip-replacement crowd (Rod Stewart, Pavarotti), the spring’s biggest stories will likely be last year’s news — the rebirth of the Beatles (Anthology 2 is due soon) and the love affair between America and Hootie & the Blowfish, whose new Fairweather Johnson may sort out just how many fair-weather friends they have.

ALBUMS: A POP-POURRI

STEVE EARLE
I Feel Alright
With his heroin troubles a memory, Earle has a solid new album, his own record label, and a tour that begins March 13. ”It might all fall apart,” he warns, ”but right now it feels great.” March 5

STING
Mercury Falling
Haven’t heard from the yoga and Amnesty International enthusiast since 1993’s Ten Summoner’s Tales, but Sting makes his current concerns immediately clear with the first single, ”Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot.” March 12

AFGHAN WHIGS
Black Love
Having survived the dreaded leap to a major label with 1993’s Gentlemen, the smug former Sub Pop quartet returns with more of its haunting, acclaimed guitar rock. March 12

7 YEAR BITCH
Gato Negro
No way. The riot grrrls on a major label and singing about broken hearts? Way. ”Things change,” says bassist Elizabeth Davis. ”If someone would have told me seven years ago we’d be on Atlantic [Records], I’d never have believed them.” March 12

THE BEATLES
Anthology 2
Moving into the Sgt. Pepper era, we’ll hear John unmistakably utter ”cranberry sauce” instead of ”I buried Paul” at the end of ”Strawberry Fields Forever.” March 19

SONGS IN THE KEY OF X (MUSIC FROM AND INSPIRED BY THE X-FILES)
An all-star spookfest with R.E.M.-William S. Burroughs and Brian Eno-Elvis Costello collaborations, as well as appearances by Sheryl Crow, Meat Puppets, Danzig, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. March 19

STONE TEMPLE PILOTS
still untitled
Two years after their breakthrough, Purple, and one year after lead singer Scott Weiland’s drug bust, the L.A. grungemeisters have a lot riding on their third full-length disc. March 26

LUCIANO PAVAROTTI
Pavarotti & Friends: Together for the Children of Bosnia
One heck of a well-connected opera singer, Pav assembles maximum- cool ”friends” Bono, The Edge, Brian Eno, and others for this benefit. April 2

LIONEL RICHIE
Louder Than Words
For his first album of all-new material in a decade, the once-given-up-for-lost balladeer has brought in a variety of hit-making honchos, including Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. April 16

GEORGE MICHAEL
Older
Ironically, one of the spring’s most hotly anticipated albums might not make its release date. Michael continues to toil in the studio, as the album’s first single, ”Jesus to a Child,” begins to fade on pop radio. April 16

PAUL WESTERBERG
Eventually
From the godfather of alternative rock: an apt title for an album fans have waited nearly three years for. April 23

HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH
Fairweather Johnson
At 12 million, Cracked Rear View was last year’s top seller, making this maybe the most daunting follow-up since Peter Frampton’s I’m in You. April 23