Ben Folds Best Imitation of Myself

Ben Folds Best Imitation of Myself
While Best Imitation of Myself may be a contractual obligation, no one could accuse Ben Folds of phoning this one in. A three-disc retrospective, this collection features a disc of some of his most popular tracks with a live collection and a set of b-sides and rarities, all from an artist who many people still think of as that guy that sang "Brick." That odd-ball hit (a morose ballad about abortion) kicks off the "hits" set that mixes Folds' work with the Five (who reconvened to record three new songs for this collection) with solo material, up to and including last year's collaboration with author Nick Hornby. Included are a couple alternate versions of Folds classics, including "Smoke," with the Australian Symphony Orchestra, but "Army" and "Song for the Dumped" are both curiously missing. They do show up on the live disc, which picks up where Naked Baby Photos left off (about 1997) with selections showcasing Folds' surprisingly muscular live show. Performances with Rufus Wainwright and the Bens (Folds with Ben Kweller and Ben Lee) sit next to a healthy selection of deep cuts. But the third disc is the gem, featuring demos, rarities and b-sides, including Folds' popular cover of Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit." While it's easy to see why some of these tracks didn't make the cut, there are no stinkers. Some insightful liner notes written by Folds come with the set, as does a download for an additional five-track EP. From there, fans gain access to the Ben Folds 55 Vault, where an additional 50 tracks are available for purchase, ensuring that even the most hardcore fan won't run out of material to root through. People often reduce Folds' music to that of a second-rate Elton John, but as this compilation reaffirms, he's a restless artist whose desire to break new ground has more often than not created some genuine pop triumphs. (Epic/Legacy)