Somewhere there is a short list of people who are both cool and have receding hairlines. Bruce Willis, Moby, perhaps even Kevin Spacey are on this list. Ben Folds is damn close to the top.

After breaking onto the music scene in 1995 with the quirky piano/bass/drums lineup on Ben Folds Five self titled debut, the future seemed bright for the Chapel Hill trio. Ben Folds on piano, Robert Sledge on bass and Darren Jesse on drums went on to make two more albums ? “Whatever & Ever Amen” and “Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner” ? and a collection of rarities in “Naked Baby Photos” that were critically well received.

In 2001, Ben Folds released “Rockin the Suburbs,” his “first” solo album ? his first solo album was actually the anonymously released electronic synth pop of Fear of Pop Vol. 1 ? which was quite a success and sold a few “Sham On” T-shirts.

He proved that he could make a studio album without the other two members of his former band. The true test was yet to come. Could he tour without fuzzy bass licks and drum solos?

If you replace fuzzy bass licks with decent piano filler and the drum solos with hordes of fans who sing along. Yes, I am referring to the live recording of “Army” from Ben Folds’ latest release, “Ben Folds Live.” He breaks the audience into two sections, each singing the horn parts from the popular release.

The compilation includes old favorites, “Philosophy,” greatest hits “One Angry Dwarf. . .” and even a cover of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” If Ben Folds wanted to escape the comparisons, it is much too late for that.

The album is solid. Known for his witty and energetic stage presence, Folds introduces the songs and even takes requests. This energy permeates the album and instills it with the distinct listening experience of a live performance.

Perhaps the best example is in the introduction to “Brick” in which Folds confirms the rumors that it is about an ex-girlfriend who had an abortion. That level of introspection is not to be found with most contemporary power pop.

If you are just discovering Ben Folds, go to Record Archive and buy “Rockin the Suburbs” or “Whatever & Ever Amen.” If you are already a fan, check out “Ben Folds Live.” It is worth the listen.

Litz can be reached at

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