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Major-Label Refugees Eye Indie Homes

Songstress Sheryl Crow is on track to be the highest debut performance when the latest pop album charts are released Wednesday, challenging reigning Universal Music labelmate Ashanti for the top spot. But Crow’s latest effort, “C’mon C’mon,” her first studio release since the platinum “Globe Sessions” four years ago, also leads a sizable roster of artists bowing this month that have had a rocky history with the rapidly consolidating major-label system.

Crow herself was one of several artists to question her future with Universal Music after the label giant acquired her alma mater, A&M Records. While the star and her label have since smoothed things over, several of this week’s debut albums come from acts that have changed or severed their ties with the increasingly megahit-focused majors.

Seminal synth-pop act the Pet Shop Boys, for example, is unveiling its latest effort, “Release,” on the U.K.-based independent music firm Sanctuary, which also has turned a tidy profit putting out records from major-label refugees Iron Maiden and Megadeth. “Release” marks the Boys’ first work outside the EMI family for more than a decade.

Also in the offing is “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” the critically acclaimed fourth LP from alt-country quartet Wilco. The band was dropped from Reprise Records, reportedly over concerns about the marketing of the record. But it has since found a home as the first rock band on Warner Music’s eclectic Nonesuch imprint.

Meanwhile, “Stereo” and “Mono,” a pair of releases from gravelly voiced post-punker Paul Westerberg, are out on indie Vagrant Records, based in Santa Monica. Vagrant has made a name for itself recently as a major hub of the resurgent “emo-core” sound; many of the label’s acts, including Saves the Day and the Get Up Kids, count both Westerberg and his former band the Replacements as influences.

“I think for the first time since he was on (the Replacements’ original indie label) Twin/Tone, he is working with people who value his art more than the bottom line,” said Vagrant chief Rich Egan. “He is free to make the music he wants to make without someone telling him it isn’t commercial enough.”

Independents have made their mark on the charts over the past year. Gotham-based Wind-Up hit the jackpot with hard-rock act Creed, whose most recent album “Weathered” has sold 5 million copies to date. And metal imprint Roadrunner Records did so well with acts like Nickelback and Slipknot that Universal Music paid more than $30 million to take a 51% stake in it last year.

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