'IN YOUR HONOR'
Roswell/RCA Records sss
When word trickled out in 1995 that Nirvana's drummer was issuing a solo record in the wake of his group's demise, the rock world wasn't sure what to think. Over the years, we'd watched the downfall of so many similar projects, vanity works from presumptuous sidemen trading off a band's brand name.
Ten years, five albums and four Grammy Awards later, it's easy to take for granted the exceptional accomplishment of Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters. That debut record and its descendants unveiled stuff we'd never known about the guy who sat behind Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic -- namely, that he was an artist with a distinct creative voice, and a prolific writer with a flair for expertly crafted rock songs.
"In Your Honor," an emotionally vigorous double disc that showcases Grohl's heavy chops while displaying a new low-key side, keeps the reputation intact. The opening title track serves as a snapshot of Disc 1, launching with a churn of dissonant guitar that morphs into a jagged but melodic lick. Like the other nine cuts on the first side, it finds Grohl in near-primal scream mode, a yelp whose angry passion he says was conjured while campaigning last fall for John Kerry.
At times recalling the attack of onetime Seattle contemporary Soundgarden, these are the heaviest songs yet concocted by Grohl and his band mates, who include guitarist Taylor Hawkins. The rancorous delivery sometimes bleeds together, producing sound-alike tracks like "The Last Song" and "Free Me." But Grohl's command of pop-hook essentials -- catchy riffs, soaring choruses, crisp doubled vocals -- provides the spice for such songs as "DOA," "Best of You" and "Resolve."
Where Disc 1 is loaded with the Foos' most anthemic hard rock, the second platter, featuring guests such as Norah Jones, finds Grohl as mellow as we've ever heard him, his voice often accompanied by no more than graceful synth and acoustic guitar. The spare approach is a peek into Grohl's songwriting, and it's easy to imagine the simple melodies of "What If I Do" and "Miracle" amped up into more familiar Foo fare. His lyrics are as straightforward as his vocal arrangements, economical in rhythm and tone; it's safe to say Cobain wasn't the only Nirvanaite tutored by the John Lennon instruction manual of melody.
"In Your Honor" is a pair of distinct records that succeeds as a whole, and another ambitious, high-profile rock album in a year that has brought a refreshing spate of them. Perhaps the edgy musical art we've expected from these turbulent times is at last showing itself.
'DON'T BELIEVE THE TRUTH'
If you believed the truth, based on the evidence of its past three discs, Oasis was a spent force, surviving on snarky publicity and fumes from the group's first two albums, released about a decade ago. But this is the fact: "Don't Believe the Truth" is the first completely successful collection since the band's glory days, featuring songs with actual melodies that can actually be heard, thanks to the considerable tear-down of that fuzz wall of sound. (Of course, it also means we can better hear the lyrics, which are only slightly less cringe-inducing than usual.)
Sure, the songs still sound on the shoulder of giants: The catchy "Lyla" has singer Liam Gallagher channeling "Street Fighting Man"-era Jagger, and "Mucky Fingers " should give a cowriting credit to Velvet Underground-era Lou Reed. Yet the brothers Gallagher get a real goose from the songwriting contributions of Gem Archer. The straight-ahead time keeping of new drummer Zak Starkey may be the best Beatleism they've ever adopted. And with "Let There Be Love," the group finally has a ballad to equal "Wonderwall."
'ROUND ABOUT MIDNIGHT: THE LEGACY EDITION'
Columbia Legacy sss
Davis' 1957 Columbia debut has been reissued many times, but the irresistible lure here is a second CD of contemporaneous live material featuring Davis' landmark quintet with saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. You get 30 minutes of stunning material from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium recorded Feb. 18, 1956 -- a window into the electrifying unity and momentum this band generated in performance.
The repertoire is familiar but includes two tunes the quintet never recorded in the studio: "Max is Making Wax" and "Walkin."' The fidelity is good, and impresario Gene Norman's comments (dig the reference to "Johnny Coltrane") are a gas. This release also includes the famous "Round Midnight" from the Newport Jazz Festival the previous July. The original "Round About Midnight" doesn't match the best of the 1956 Prestige recordings, but we're talking the difference between silver and gold.
'PLAYS BEETHOVEN, RAVEL, SALONEN, GREY AND MESSIAEN'
Josefowicz, violin; John Novacek, piano.
Warner Classics ssss
The maturation of former prodigy Leila Josefowicz has been a joy. Rather than fall prey to Great Masterpiece Syndrome, she's applying her virtuosity, expressive musicianship and hot-and-sweet style to a striking range of modern and contemporary repertoire. This two-CD recital finds familiar works by Beethoven, Ravel and Brahms gaining a fresh jolt of relevance in the company of Olivier Messiaen and unaccompanied works by American Mark Grey (b. 1967) and Finn Esa-Pekka Salonen (b. 1958).
Grey's "San Andreas Suite" pulsates with the bright California vibe of John Adams; Salonen's "Lachen Verlernt" is weightier and more redolent of a European aesthetic. Josefowicz brings a deep reservoir of color and intellect to her phrasing, and when she and pianist John Novacek turn to standard fare, her playing reflects a similar mix of brains, lyricism and exploration.
Caitlin Cary & amp; Thad Cockrell
Yep Roc ssss
Like Adam and Shannon Wright, whose debut album turned some heads a few weeks back, Cary and Cockrell cast a powerful spell with their effortless harmonies. Unlike the decidedly country Wrights, however, this musically ambiguous pair blurs the lines dividing genres and musical eras, drawing inspiration at one moment from Percy Sledge (a cover of his "Warm and Tender Love" is rendered almost like a prayer), at the next from Patsy Cline and at the next from moody '90s alt-country.
Both Cary (formerly of Whiskeytown) and the less-celebrated Cockrell are gifted musicians, and they accomplish some sweet songwriting feats here: The all-but-forgotten ties binding old-time country and R & amp;B are revived on the "Two Different Things." The lush, Cline-like "Please Break My Heart" is a glorious, ghostly echo of 1962. And dangerously personal musings about sin and redemption end up sounding hip and genuinely moving on "Big House." Oddly, though, it's a song Cary-Cockrell didn't write that proves most haunting. The aching "Waiting on June," from little-known North Carolina band Roman Candle, is filled with wistfulness, dreamy pedal steel and melancholy lyrics that suit Cockrell's earnest tenor perfectly.
Knight Ridder Newspapers