Ben Folds releases his second proper solo LP, Songs for Silverman, today. I've had a copy of the record for a week and I already think very highly of it. This is definitely a more mature record in the sense that Ben has shed some things from his past. There is no silliness-with-implied-seriousness like "Rockin' the Suburbs" nor are there any really sad songs like "Carrying Cathy." (If you want to hear some silliness, definitely check out his version of the Darkness' "Get Your Hands Off My Woman" off of the Super D EP.)
My only complaint about Folds' first solo record, Rockin' the Suburbs, was the lack of a "band" vibe in the performance. Folds recorded all of the instruments (save for strings) and while the songs are very good, everything is safely performed. I missed the vibe of Ben playing with live musicians; the banged-out notes and the lively dynamics of three people working off each other was missed. Well, Songs for Silverman features Folds with a new backing band and the record benefits from a very fresh sound.
I can hear the pundits though: "this sounds just like Ben Folds Five with a weaker rhythm section." Sure, his new drummer and bassist sound a lot like Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge (rolling drumbeats, fuzz bass), but this is a different band. Their harmonies mix very well with Ben's voice and their playing compliment Ben's piano. In other words, this ain't Ben Folds With a Weaker Five.
Overall, there are a lot of highlights on this record. "Landed" is a very strong single, "Gracie" is cute little ditty about his daughter that thankfully doesn't fall into sappy mush, "Late" is thankfully not a heavy-handed tribute to Elliott Smith, "Trusted" really tugs at my melodic heart, "Jesusland" and "Give Judy My Notice" harken back to 70s-styled, country-tinged gems and "Time" and "Prison Food" are fantastic closing tracks.
Songs for Silverman will not set the world on fire nor is this going to be the next big thing. That hype was long ago and it's nice to see some longevity in the mainstream music industry.