July 2005

Ben Folds - Songs For Silverman
Epic EK 87104
Format: CD and DVD
Released: 2005

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Video Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****

At a time when the charts were dominated by guitar-based alternative rock, the Ben Folds Five was an anomaly. Folds was a skilled pianist who rocked hard, but he could throw a convincing classical or jazz reference into his playing. He had an easy way with melody, so much so that it was easy to wonder if he put any sweat into some of his songs. His only weakness was an occasional attempt at cynical wisecracking that ended up sounding like junior-league Randy Newman (e.g., "One Angry Dwarf and Two Hundred Solemn Faces" and "Uncle Walter"). By the band’s third disc, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, Folds was writing songs that were ambitious and unpredictable, with sophisticated melodies and a gentler satirical touch.

Folds’s solo albums, which followed the band’s breakup in 2000, were even better. His pleasant tenor voice matured and became more expressive. His newest disc, Songs for Silverman, is a feast of lush background vocals, dazzling playing, and achingly beautiful melodies. It isn’t surprising that Folds would sing "Gracie," a song about his daughter, so tenderly, but it is commendable that "Jesusland" avoids an accusatory blue-state/red-state tone and opts instead for a hint of sadness. A tribute to Elliot Smith says, simply and without sentimentality, "the songs you wrote/got me through a lot."

My copy came as a limited-edition package that includes a DVD with a moderately interesting 40-minute video documentary. Do yourself a favor and buy the single Dual Disc, which adds 5.1 and PCM stereo mixes to the DVD side, and includes the documentary and a bonus track, "Landed (Strings Version)."