Ben Folds - Songs For SilvermanWith a portfolio that includes such ironic Generation X anthems as “Song For The Dumped”, “Rockin’ The Suburbs” and collaborations with William Shatner and Weird Al Yankovic, it may be easy to pigeonhole Ben Folds as a wacky alt-rock guy, and for a while, even he might have been content with that label. But his latest album, Songs For Silverman, is a bit less loaded down with that almost prerequisite irony – it’s a finely crafted, mature collection that, while not without moments of humor, acknowledges that the artist (and, perhaps, his fan base) is growing up.

There are several standouts among the introspective set of songs here; “Bastard” laments how we all get more set in our ways and inflexible as we get older; this song really sets a lot of the album’s tone – it’s steeped in the pure pop songwriting and performance sensibilities of the 1970s, the age of Carole King and James Taylor and Billy Joel and pre-African-percussion-obsessed Paul Simon. I realize that the Billy Joel comparison is nothing new where Ben Folds is concerned, but the comparison has evolved beyond the superficial one-man-and-his-piano similarities here.

“You To Thank”, “Trusted” and “Landed” are further examples of Folds’ rooted-in-the-70s style for this album, being a particular combination of lush and bluesy at the same time, with “Landed” being possibly the best thing on the album and a wise (yet unconventional) choice for a lead single. “Jesusland” is a slightly ironic travelogue through the American midwest with some nice string work and great vocal harmonies.

For those fans who, like myself, eagerly snatched up Folds’ three between-albums solo EPs in 2003 and 2004, Songs For Silverman contains only one of those songs: a surprisingly earnest, country-fried rendition of “Give Judy My Notice”. I was taken aback to hear this particular song re-recorded with pedal steel guitar, but at the same time, Folds’ own inclination toward a southern twang makes it authentic, and I quickly grew to like this version better.

Another highlight of the whole album is “Time”, a song that really made me appreciate what a fantastic voice Folds has. I’ve always liked his voice, but something about Songs For Silverman‘s stripped-down, spare style brings the vocals to the forefront. (Speaking of vocals, “Time” features some great backing vocals credited to the aforementioned Mr. Al Yankovic, someone else whose voice tends to be underrated.)

In short, a fantastic album, one of the best things I’ve heard this year. It may not have the “punch line” of Rockin’ The Suburbs, but Songs For Silverman doesn’t need a punch line. There are still plenty of instances of 4 out of 4classic Ben Folds humor on his recent series of EPs (and again, I can’t recommend strongly enough that fans pick those CDs up, because Folds as made a whole album’s worth of material in the interval between Suburbs and Silverman, and none of it has been “reject” material). Songs For Silverman is a fine example of some damned good songwriting, something for which Ben Folds is long overdue some credit.

Order this CD

  1. Bastard (5:23)
  2. You To Thank (3:36)
  3. Jesusland (4:30)
  4. Landed (4:28)
  5. Gracie (2:40)
  6. Trusted (4:08)
  7. Give Judy My Notice (3:37)
  8. Late (3:58)
  9. Sentimental Guy (3:03)
  10. Time (4:30)
  11. Prison Food (4:15)

Released by: Epic / Sony
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 44:12