"The Sound of the Life of the Mind," Ben Folds Five (Ima Vee Pee/Sony)
It would be easy to assume that Ben Folds didn't really need his Five (actually, two — bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jessee). After all, Folds went on to a successful solo career, created some great albums and had always written most of the songs when he was with the trio.
However, the new album by the reunited group, "The Sound of the Life of the Mind," might change some assumptions. Folds sounds different with his old band mates. The new album may not necessarily be better than Folds' solo projects, but the trio has a chemistry that you might not have recognized missed until you heard them back together. Jessee (who wrote on song on the disc) and Sledge make the music rock more and Folds seems happy for the nudge.
Thankfully, the new album isn't some touchy-feely reunion thing. Folds' crass humor and cynicism is in fine form. The smart-mouthed "Draw a Crowd" sounds as if it could've easily come from the band's breakthrough album "Whatever and Ever Amen."
The new album's title cut is a track co-written by Folds and novelist Nick Hornby and it really makes you wish Folds had used the Five to record the entire album of Folds and Hornby songs (2010's "Lonely Avenue"), because the new song sounds more vital than anything on that past collaboration.
Overall, "The Sound of the Life of the Mind" doesn't make you wish Folds would just throw in his lot with his old band mates full time. It's too much fun hearing Folds on his many odd tangents (especially his "Ben Folds Presents University A Cappella," the William Shatner collaboration "Has Been" and Folds' solo disc "Way to Normal"). Still, it would be nice to hear the trio as regular option.
"Moonlit Deja Vu," Michael Johnson (Red House)
Michael Johnson has one of those voices that makes itself welcome every few years or so. He started as a folkie in the groups the Chad Mitchell Trio (with John Denver) and the New Society in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, he released the album "There Is a Breeze," which helped introduce the world to the songs of Greg Brown, Jackson Browne, Biff Rose and the work of other underappreciated songwriters. He made a dent in the adult contemporary market with his 1978 hit "Bluer Than Blue," "Almost Like Being in Love" and "This Night Won't Last Forever." In 1986, he found a foothold in country and had the hits "Give Me Wings," "The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder" and several others.
Johnson's strong and mellow voice and sensitive, classically-influenced guitar style still sound in fine form on his new album, "Moonlit Deja Vu." However unwilling you might be, Johnson can still skewer your heart with sentimentality. There are some gorgeous numbers, including "April Fool," "Kiss Me Goodbye" (which nicks Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring") and "How Do You Know What You Know?" (all written by Hugh Prestwood). There's some overly schmaltzy material ("One Mile Apart," in particular). But that's always been a danger with Johnson's work. And just hearing Johnson's voice and guitar again is so nice, you just might overlook the sentimental overkill.
"Percy Dovetonsils ... Thpeaks," Ernie Kovacs (Omnivore)
Ernie Kovacs was one of the grand madmen of early television. His TV shows and specials were as wild and absurd as Monty Python would be many years later.
One of Kovacs' enduring characters is the sensitive poet Percy Dovetonsils.
This album finally gives release to an album that Kovacs had recorded in 1960, but then shelved before it was released.
While some of the material is dated, it is often still hilarious.
"Ode to Stanley's Pussycat", "Ode to Whistler's Mother" and other tracks are little classics.
And it's good to have more of Kovacs finally finding release.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!