Ten years in Folds produces more mature “Songs”

Ben Folds, as the lead singer of a trio of musicians not-so-aptly named Ben Folds Five, burst onto the mainstream scene in the mid-1990s with a brand of piano pop that was refreshing for music fans that didn’t jive with the grunge revolution of the first half of the decade. But the band split up after two albums of sometimes touching, often ironic and humorous, but always melodic albums that Folds described as “punk rock for sissies.”

Following the split in 2000, he released his first solo effort, “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” which didn’t stray far from the formula of the BFF albums. The effort was another mix of depression, melancholy and self-conflict with a splash of humor mixed in.

After four years with a scattering of EPs and singles released, Folds returns with “Songs for Silverman” and it seems as though the formerly juvenile and campy singer-songwriter (see previous tracks “Song for the Dumped,” “Army” and “Rockin’ the Suburbs”) has taken a turn towards maturity. It seems Folds has grown up.

“Songs,” which finds Folds more heartfelt and genuine than ever before, includes odes to his wife and daughter. But perhaps most touching is his straight-forward tribute to deceased indie singer Elliott Smith, with “Late.”

Folds balances the touching stuff with tracks that feature the cynicism, humor and clever writing of his past, but with a better focus. “Old Bastard” is not a tribute to the “dirty” one of Wu Tang fame but rather a rant against a younger generation that doesn’t want to stay young and claims to know it all. Perhaps the most engaging track is the string-laden “Jesusland,” a witty statement on Folds’ view of the Southern landscape and the politics of its people.