Arts Desk

Ben Folds Takes Five

In certain company, few admissions invite greater scorn than revealing a fondness for Ben Folds or a cappella. (I speak from experience.) Some people regard the former, if you're not a melodramatic 17-year-old, as symptomatic of arrested emotional development; and the latter, to use the unfortunate parlance of the times, as "super gay."

These people might feel vindicated to learn that Mr. Folds has embraced the cult of collegiate a cappella with a natural affection. Neither should this surprise his fans, who have watched the pianist make the gradual (and somewhat lamentable) transition from a key-mashing, punk-jazz swashbuckler to round-sound, uber-pop balladeer over the last decade. Folds has exhibited an affinity for clean, ethereal harmonies ever since he went solo; a preoccupation with a cappella was a logical next step.

Case in point, last fall he commissioned an album of a cappella covers of his songs from college groups. The resulting album, Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella, was released today. Engineering a greatest hits album sung by a phalanx of adoring co-eds might seem like a magnanimous gesture of populism or the height of narcissism, depending on your perspective. In any case, proceeds from the album have been marked for music-education charities, so it's all good.

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