Ben Folds is no stranger to collaboration. After his most recent solo album, 2008's Way to Normal, he released 2010's Lonely Avenue, which set English novelist Nick Hornby's lyrics to Folds' music; a quickly generated fundraising record supporting musical opportunities for kids titled Nighty-Night, co-credited to Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer, writer Neil Gaiman, and OK Go's Damian Kulash; and his band Ben Folds Five's 2012 reunion LP, The Sound of the Life of the Mind, and pursuant live release; not to mention producing stints (such as Sara Bareilles' 2012 EP Once Upon Another Time) and other TV, theater, and music projects. Also no stranger to the classical realm, Folds was a percussion performance major during his time at university, has performed his piano rock songs with various orchestras, and premiered his first piano concerto with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in 2014. So There finds the musician partnering with the experimental Brooklyn chamber ensemble yMusic on eight new tunes referred to as "8 chamber rock songs" on the record's packaging. It also includes a studio recording of his aforementioned three-movement "Concerto for Piano & Orchestra" with the Nashville Symphony. It turns out that yMusic's participation augments song textures without replacing anything uniquely Folds. His tremendously agile, rhythmic piano playing, also-agile melodies, and occasionally double-tracked, distinctive vocals are all still front and center. The album opens strongly with two memorable and thoughtful pop songs, "Capable of Anything," whose title refers to anything good and anything bad, and the seemingly tender "Not a Fan." The former is driven by (after melody) piano and drums, with deft string and woodwind embellishments; the latter is a piano-and-strings ballad that transforms into a harsh moment of clarity for the lyrics' protagonist. Another album highlight, "Phone in a Pool," addresses communication breakdowns and the lure of disconnecting ("When you've lived to be two hundred/Feel free to proffer your advice/Until that time here's my auto-reply"). The nerdiest and goofiest piece is easily "F10-D-A," an ensemble-punctuated music theory lesson in double-entendre. The piano concerto is approachable and dramatic, a Gershwin-esque, pop-influenced type of classical work. Fans of his songwriting may be surprised at how much it has Ben's voice without, well, Ben's voice. The album will very likely be embraced by solo Folds aficionados, though it may not appeal to those who strongly favor the brasher Five. Outside of a career context, and with credit to Folds' co-arrangers and co-producers, C.J. Camerieri and Rob Moose of yMusic, So There is both ambitious and down-to-earth, impeccably constructed, and utterly accessible.
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AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson