First off, let's make one thing clear: This debut long-player from former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl's new band isn't the "new Nirvana album," as many of the rock geeks out there have been claiming. Nor is it one of those alternative "supergroup" things that have become so chic lately, even though the other three quarters of Foo Fighters is made up of ex-Germs guitarist Pat Smear and a rhythm section from Sub Pop's own Sunny Day Real Estate. Rather, it's just an old-fashioned rock record--and a pretty damned good one at that. True, Grohl doesn't possess the songwriting skills of Kurt Cobain (he was Nirvana's drummer, for Christ's sake!). But he does know how to pen catchy tunes: For example, "This Is a Call," the record's first single, runs circles around just about everything that's currently being aired on college-rock radio. Likewise, the ballistic "Alone+Easy Target" is a tasty piece of power pop that's as good as anything found on Cheap Trick's landmark In Color disc. Only the album's mellower numbers fall short, mainly because they tend to amplify Grohl's less-than-virtuous guitar skills. The ultra-fluffy "Big Me," in particular, could have been left on the cutting-room floor. Still, Foo Fighters is an admirable first effort from what promises to be one of the year's most talked-about combos. If you're looking for fake Nirvana, buy a Bush record, But if you're ready to get on with your life, give Foo Fighters a whirl. You won't be disappointed.--Brad Jones
Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud
People buy Tony Bennett's paintings not because of his limited talents as an artist but because of his power as a pop star. And the opposite is also true. Only fans of Julian Schnabel's paintings and sculptures will want to hear this, his first (and doubtless last) CD. Schnabel sings lead on every cut with a voice that leaves him sounding like a country-and-Western Lou Reed (this quintessential New York artist was born and raised in Texas). But it's as a composer and lyricist that he ultimately fails; every song, with the exception of an eerie cover of Johnny Paycheck's "Apartment #9," sounds virtually the same. As a result of arrangements dominated by alternating acoustic and electric guitars, the bulk of the material resembles East Asian disco numbers typically heard in Vietnamese restaurants. Perhaps Schnabel's been traveling too much. The lyrics seem like foreign translations, too--the only way the couplet "The greatest bullfighter in Spain/And all that he lived in his pain" might have worked would have been if Schnabel had sung it phonetically, in the manner of Abba. And although the disc apparently is a serious effort, it's marked by examples of vanity, such as the decision to feature actor Gary Oldman singing and playing the piano. A final note: The lackluster graphic design of the package, also the work of Schnabel, reminds us why the artist is looking to jump careers. Maybe he can make movies?--Michael Paglia
All Night Long
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At times it seems that gutbucket blues are already a thing of the past. The music that inspired so many early rockers (and plenty of just plain folks) can still be found on street corners and in choice dives if you look hard enough, but it appears on nationally distributed CDs about as often as Hollywood makes a movie in which nothing explodes. Even Alligator Records, an imprint that in the past has brought to the public impressive talents such as Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials, is presently concentrating on the promotion of discs by tired blues rockers (e.g., the latest from Elvin Bishop) or new Stevie Ray Vaughans like Australian grinder Dave Hole. So imagine our surprise when Capricorn, a label best known for signees Widespread Panic, decided to make this raw, beautiful platter (initially issued on Fat Possum in 1994) available to a larger public. Kimbrough, who was featured in journalist Robert Palmer's 1992 documentary Deep Blues, comes by his Delta stylings honestly; he's from Holly Springs, Mississippi, and has lived 58 years that have been every bit as hard as those experienced by any of the music's progenitors. Better, he is able to filter this experience through sounds made by him and his band (the Soul Blues Boys) that pay brilliant homage to the genre's past yet are far more vital than those produced by practically any other contemporary blues songwriter you care to name. The brand of by-the-numbers blues that's been rewarded most frequently of late actually diminishes rather than enriches the style's traditions. Kimbrough, by contrast, puts so damn much passion into "I Feel Alright" and the rest of these absorbing, life-affirming exercises in twentieth-century musical classicism that he brings the blues back to life again. And that should be a lesson for us all.--Michael Roberts