Piano maestro Ben Folds second solo album, Songs for Silverman, appears to emphatically make a convincing case toward the affirmative. Truthfully, though, Folds is still as satirical as he’s been throughout his career. Recording with a new rhythm section (bassist Jared Reynolds and drummer Lindsay Jamieson), Folds has returned to the core piano, bass and drums lineup that brought him renown fronting Ben Folds Five (with Robert Sledge and Darren Jesse) during the 1990s. There’s less guitar than appeared on the self-consciously trying-to-break-from-the-familiar mold of Rockin' the Suburbs. And that makes Silverman a composed, unfussy listen. There are few surprises, and what’s presented is an impeccably executed collection of pop-rock tunes. Songs celebrating fatherhood, bemoaning the quick passage of youth and heartfelt tributes to passed on friends can all be found here.
Songs for Silverman picks up right where the excellent Ben-comes-into-his-own Rockin' the Suburbs left off in 2001. These are heartfelt songs: sometimes cheeky and occasionally heartbreaking. Gracie, written in a hopeful key for Folds' young daughter, unravels to playful but brilliant piano plinks; Late, for the departed singer/songwriter Elliott Smith, sidesteps straight-on sadness to convey a sense of lost camaraderie; and the clear-eyed Landed, delivered in Folds' unadorned, tree-trunk sturdy voice, will inspire untold revelations for those stuck in stalled relationships. The music, meantime, maintains its sharp edge: You to Thank juts out with the help of a two new players in a celebratory jazz direction, while Give Judy My Notice dabbles in country and a chorus swells for Jesusland. Throughout, Folds' piano work remains a pop-music goodie bag that defies duplication. Although the album appears to tail off a bit towards the end, with Prison Food being a bit too meandering for a closing track, Songs for Silverman is generally an extremely welcome return for one of the most talented performers around today.
Not only is Folds singing better than ever, and not only is his song-writing oozing confidence - but the musician in him is also at the peak of his powers; the piano playing is just mesmerizing. It's technically impressive, but it's all tastefully done with thankfully little superfluous noodling or showing off. Songs for Silverman is Folds' “comfortable in his own shoes” album. It’s obvious that the one-hit wonder tag he picked up for the career-making single Brick no longer applies. What’s left for the artist is making classically sound pop records that celebrate the messiness of everyday living, leaving posterity to those so inclined to obsess over such fickle matters.