Jimmy Fallon.(arts)(now Hear This)

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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.


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. …