Those, of course, are his songwriting and piano playing (dudes never been much of a singer, but to his credit, his voice has never seemed to hinder listeners from engaging with his music), which established Folds as the premiere balladeer for both Generation X and Y.
Hes got plenty of other sensibilities, including a penchant for pretty, intricate melodies; a sharp, sarcastic bite (both in his own lyrics and his selection of covers); and oodles of creative showmanship and presentation, exampled by his recent live staple Ode to Merton and the very cool 2006 MySpace gig in Nashville, Tenn., where his cover of Dr. Dres Bitches Aint Shit featured a 50-man guitar chorus and faked suicide outro.
Best to start with Disc One: The Best Imitation of Myself, a best-of with all the choice cuts (Brick, The Luckiest, Theres Always Someone Cooler Than You, and the Nick Hornby collaboration, From Above, really stand out) and a pair of previously unreleased songs, House (a psychological insight Folds wrote specifically for the retrospective) and an extended version of Still Fighting It, left over from the Rockin the Suburbs sessions, now more than a decade old. Even with age, the sentiments still tug at your heart, tousle your hair or just leave you feeling lonely.
Disc Two: Live mixes a few original live staples (Zak and Sara, Song for the Dumped) with slightly more obscure crowd-pleasers like the gouging anti-consumerism mocker All U Can Eat and an absolutely hilarious duet cover of Whams Careless Whisper, aided by a spot-on Rufus Wainwright. I fully intend to rehearse this for hours with whichever bro embarks on the next road trip with me.
Not the Same closes out this disc, with a three-part audience helping to tell one of Rockin the Suburbs funniest stories, about a guy who while on LSD fell out of a tree and became a born-again Christian the following day. The opening piano rumbles through the mix, ripping open an enormous gap for an eerie-sounding synthesizer to rattle around. It sets a grand, poignant stage for the odd drama to unfold.
Disc Three: Rarities itself is probably worth the albums price, if just for the ornate constructions around the rich melodies that juxtapose the sordid stories in Ke$has Sleazy and Dr. Dres Bitches Aint Shit. Even the most prude listeners cant help but tap their toes and sing along with their slummy, awesome choruses. Although I should point out that the MySpace Sessions take on Bitches might have been a better addition to the live disc, as it takes the song way further over the top than the studio recording does.
Rarities probably exhibits Folds progression as a performer and knowledge as a songwriting historian better than either of the other two discs, as it features a bunch of fun, revealing demos from the early 90s (a clicky, piano-lounge version of Best Imitation of Myself and a relatively stagnant vocal performance of Julianne that features an uncharacteristic slide guitar) and a couple of earnest covers. The thick sonic arrangement of Steely Dans Barrytown gets stirred even broader and more rich by Folds echoing piano and additional instrumentation. Also, The Postal Services oft-covered Such Great Heights gets a piano rendition that makes you really wonder how much Ben Gibbard owes Folds for the successful path he cut ahead of him.
Also, the more recent original songs Because the Origami (from the 8in8 session with Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman and Damian Kulash) and Stumblin Home Winter Blues (originally written by BFF drummer Darren Jessee and re-recorded for the compilation) both stand up with the rest of his catalogue as great, short story-like tellings of loneliness and self-esteem struggle.
Great stuff, Mr. Folds. Looking forward to your show Thursday night.