Besides putting out solo albums (and, before that, records with his trio, Ben Folds Five), Ben Folds gets involved in all sorts of interesting and unusual collaborations. He has played with symphony orchestras around the world, judged a cappella contests and produced the acclaimed if underappreciated 2004 album Has Been for actor William Shatner.
Now the American singer-songwriter-pianist has released Lonely Avenue, an album of songs with lyrics by the British novelist/screenwriter/essayist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, Juliet, Naked), whose favorite subject has been music. (The band photos on the album jacket were taken by Cincinnati photographer Michael Wilson.)
The Lonely Avenue project was hatched over dinner last year between Folds and Hornby (pictured above, Hornby on the right). The writer then began sending lyrics to Folds via e-mail. Folds worked on melodies and, in the studio, collaborated with Paul Buckmaster (who has worked with The Rolling Stones, Elton John, David Bowie and many other legends) on the sumptuously expansive string arrangements. In addition to piano, Folds plays Moog on several tunes.
With Hornby in charge as lyricist, you expect short-story-like songs filled with unusual characters, some sympathetic and some offbeat. In short, you expect songs that are carefully written, and Lonely Avenue aims for that territory. Its most poignant composition, with lyrics that Folds set to a mid-tempo ballad, is “Picture Window,” about a mother bringing her child to a hospital during the New Year’s holiday. “Claire’s Ninth” tells of a young girl’s apprehension as her separated parents come for her birthday.
For the offbeat, there’s “Your Dogs,” about an unpleasant neighbor and his pit bulls. And one song references a real-life semi-tragic character, Bristol Palin’s publicity-seeking baby-daddy Levi Johnston. He boasts in the first-person-perspective lyrics of “Levi Johnston’s Blues” that “I’m a fuckin’ redneck/I live to hang out with the boys/Get on my snowboard/Do some fishing, kill some moose.”
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