Ben Folds / Nick Hornby – Lonely Avenue (CD review)

Ben Folds/Nick Hornby – Lonely Avenue (Nonesuch) – CD review 

Ben Folds is a musician without pretense who is never reluctant to follow his muse, wherever the fickle bitch dares to take him.  Nick Hornby is a novelist who knows more about the human condition than do most shrinks.  Their collaboration was born of mutual admiration for the other’s art, which led to an on-going friendship and now working relationship.

Lonely Avenue is their first attempt at creating an entire album together – Hornby penning the lyrics, Folds setting them to music.

Comparisons to the Elton John/Bernie Taupin dynamic are easy – after all, both Folds and John are gifted pianists, Hornby and Taupin masters of wordplay.  Not to mention Paul Buckmaster, John’s string arranger throughout his classic era, contributes his trademark arrangements to Lonely Avenue.  Spiritually though, the songwriting duo could be likened as much to Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman, the former of whom penned the 1956 composition from which the album takes its name, as well as being the inspiration behind one of its tracks.

Perhaps creatively re-energized by the partnership, Folds turns in his strongest batch of catchy melodies since Rockin’ the Suburbs. Each song feels effortlessly familiar and reminiscent of the best of late-70’s and early-80’s pop (as well as Ben’s old Five), but with a brand all their own.  Together, the duo weaves a tapestry of alternately comical and sometimes heart-wrenching character studies.  Lonely Avenue is a richly rewarding listen, particularly if you’ve been waiting for Ben to get his groove back.  –Jay Scott

Fun fact: a snippet of the tune “Your Dogs” is used as the theme for the new William Shatner sitcom, “$#*! My Dad Says”.