- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

JIMMY FALLON

The Bathroom Wall

(Dreamworks)

Being a mimic is both Jimmy Fallon's greatest strength and his biggest weakness. Anyone who saw the "Saturday Night Live" star play a young Mick Jagger opposite the real thing on the late night show knows he is a master impersonator, blowing poor Dana Carvey out of the water. But his skill can also pose limitations on his act.

This gift for mimicry is rampant throughout "The Bathroom Wall," a debut album that matches comedy to five radically different mock-songs. The lead-off track "Idiot Boyfriend" is a spot-on parody of '70s funk and soul, with Mr. Fallon singing in a semi-falsetto wail, sort of like Beck did on the finale for his "Midnite Vultures" album.

"I know what you want/I know what you need/And I'm gonna screw it up/Cause I'm an idiot/and I'm your boyfriend" he sings, his voice sounding ready to break into laughter at any minute. He falters more on "(I Can't Play) Basketball" which apes the Beastie Boys in a rather dull tune about, well, how he gets "nothing but nothin'."

"Drinking in the Woods" adds a slide guitar and harmonica to a country tune about a young man who'd rather drink "mad dog" in the garage than have "my thermals on" in the woods. "Road Rage" could have come out of the Ramones catalog, even if its title says it all, and "Snowball" channels the angst of Kurt Cobain into a little ditty about getting into a snowball fight on a day off from school.

The content here is really secondary to the joke of mixing so many styles together and Mr. Fallon can both sing and play with skill (unlike, say Billy Bob Thorton).

The funniest bit comes in the stand-up portion, when he pretends to be different musicians auditioning to sing "Troll Doll Jingles." His Bono grunt is classic, he does a decent imitation of Adam Duritz from Counting Crows and his Dave Matthews is so right-on that you would swear Mr. Matthews made a cameo on stage.

He also proves the point that most '80s songs work well to the beat of M.C. Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" in a sketch that includes bits of "Safety Dance," "I Just Died In Your Arms" and "Take On Me."

It's all quite entertaining, but the comedy portion is a bit short for a full album, and the remaining songs are funny the first time around, but aren't nearly as interesting on repeat listens (unlike Adam Sandler's CDs, where the songs are better than the comedy sketches).

Mr. Fallon may be a talent worth watching, but "The Bathroom Wall" isn't nearly as much fun to listen to as watching the young comic in action.

D.S.


NICKEL CREEK

This Side

(Sugar Hill Records)

There's a proud bluegrass tradition of covering other artists' material (listen to the "O Brother" soundtrack for ample evidence), and Nickel Creek begins its sophomore release in the same manner. Except the artist this young trio pays homage to isn't some long-dead tunesmith, but the very much alive Stephen Malkmus, former head of alternative rockers Pavement.

Covering Pavement's "Spit on a Stranger" is like a generational flag going up for the bluegrass movement, with Nickel Creek firmly staking claim on a genre that's been declared dead many times over. It seems like a joke at first, but Chris Thile's whiny, yet earnest, vocals over a plucked mandolin melody are convincingly real, especially when band mate Sean Watkins comes in to harmonize.

Alison Krauss gives the production a clean sound, mostly letting the beauty of the instruments speak for themselves. All three members (Mr. Thile, Mr. Watkins and his sister Sara Watkins) are able singers and trade off vocal duties frequently enough (with harmonies throughout) so the record doesn't sound repetitive.

The trio may be young (Mr. Watkins is the oldest, at 25; Miss Watkins is only 20), but a decade's worth of playing together makes the group's sound both distinct and mature. Check out "Speak," which features Mr. Watkins singing like Justin Timberlake with a sore throat, before his sister comes in with the wispy, haunting chorus "I'll offer my arm to yours/it seems to me, no mystery."

Miss Watkins is the group's most distinct singer, and her voice is an able match for a cover of Carrie Newcomer's bitter "I Should've Known Better." While her fiddle skills are present throughout, her voice is sorely underused for the amount of sweetness it contains.

"This Side" may fit loosely into bluegrass or country, but Nickel Creek's folk influences come through clearly, as well. "House Carpenter," a new arrangement of a traditional tune, sounds like a B-side from Traffic's "John Barleycorn Must Die." "Beauty and the Mess" likewise puts a folk spin on a tale of hiding fear and pain in the spotlight of fame.

It's this eclecticism, underpinned with the trio's skill on guitar, fiddle and mandolin, that makes Nickel Creek cross generations and transcend any narrow bluegrass label.

Derek Simmonsen


BISHOP T.D. JAKES

Women Thou Art Loosed: 2002

(EMI Gospel Records)

This is the latest concert album by T.D. Jakes, once an obscure West Virginia pastor who moved to Dallas less than 10 years ago and started a church. What's added to his magic is his emphasis on beaten-down women and how they too can be "loosed" from oppression.

Mr. Jakes, who is black, is adored by the millions of black women who have bought his tapes and books and pack his conferences. He's got a respectable following among other races as well.

He is also broadcast into the nation's prisons as a way of bringing the Gospel into arenas that are often recruiting grounds for Islam. Mr. Jakes believes in "building up" the listener, which is why he intersperses his music with sermonettes.

In between songs, he holds forth on God's "weakness" for worship, the difference between praise and worship and the struggle for a focused mind. Worship CDs are big now in Christian circles and Mr. Jakes emphasizes worship as a way of changing one's outlook on life.

The album is done in true Gospel style: rousing choruses interspersed with worship pep talk. Mr. Jakes' habit of breaking alternating English with speaking in tongues during his times at the mike takes some getting used to for those not used to Pentecostal worship.

The third cut, "Your Majesty," sweeps one up into a seeming heavenly chorus and has a great melody as well. "Release Your Power" is also an attractive arrangement. The CD was recorded live a year ago at the New Orleans Superdome.

J.D.


COUSTEAU

Sirena

(Palm Pictures)

Cousteau takes a big step backward into the proverbial sophomore jinx with "Sirena," a wan follow-up to the group's sleek, suave and sophisticated 2001 debut.

"Sirena" is no less polished than its predecessor, yet the mix of piano, strings and horns is more enervated this time. The release suffers a near-fatal opening trio of mopey fussiness with "Nothing So Bad," "Talking to Myself" and "Heavy Weather."

Fortunately, there's a measure of recovery and redemption as smooth-crooning vocalist Liam McKahey and the rest of the band glide into the tranquil elegance of "Peculiarly You," "Please Don't Cry" and "After the Fall." That cosmopolitan charm may be a bit affected and harder to come by, but it hasn't completely vanished.

However, Cousteau sinks again down the stretch as its Burt Bacharach-ish stylings get mired in lethargy with only stray memorable melodies seeping through. There's nothing wrong with florid sounds, but some of "Sirena's" cuts are as alluring as an arrangement of white plastic flowers.

The music industry could use more cultured pop acts, and Cousteau needs to rediscover its magnetism to lead the way.

Scripps Howard News Service


JOHN TESH

A Deeper Faith

(Garden City Music)

Emmy Award-winning pianist John Tesh is better known for his TV appearances and instrumental jazz albums. Now he's come out with his first Christian album: one that mirrors what he plays every Sunday at Beth Ariel, the small messianic Jewish-Christian fellowship in Los Angeles.

It's all worship music Mr. Tesh's new call. There's a lot of creative new arrangements for well-known contemporary Christian classics such as "You're Worthy of My Praise" and "Shout to the Lord." Guest singer Nicole C. Mullen's vocals make the former cut shine.

The best song is "Monday's Mission," an instrumental piece of very classy piano, strings and drums that morphs into a pop/rock rhapsody. If there's a message, it's unclear, but the music is so cool almost movie theme quality that it does not matter.

This lengthy album is interrupted at times by some sermonettes set to music and a jarring insert by Mr. Tesh's 7-year-old daughter that should have been left out. The album ends with the title cut, a nice piano piece inspired by President Bush's Washington Cathedral speech following the September 11 attacks.

Some lyrics would have been helpful with this CD, along with some explanations as to exactly where this album is going.

Julia Duin

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