Saturday night, Ben Folds joined the South Bend Symphony Orchestra in celebrating the City’s 150th anniversary with a concert well-suited to fans of both classical and pop music.
Children’s author Sandra Boynton penned the 12 country and children’s songs on the new compilation, Frog Trouble, then she gathered several country and rock stars to record them. Among the singers on the album are Allison Krauss, Ryan Adams, Ben Folds, Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Dwight Yoakam, Fountains of Wayne and Linda Eder. You can download free, legal mp3s of the tracks “Heartache Song” by Kacey Musgraves, “When Pigs Fly” by Ryan Adams and “Broken Piano” by Ben Folds at Noisetrade and buy the entire album at Amazon.
Frog Trouble 3-Song Sampler (mp3 download page)
Amanda names the opener as her “hands-down favorite” song on the album as well as the track that most represents her current songwriting style. “Astronaut” is initially driven by the thunderous force of Palmer’s piano before her somber alto slides in for the quiet opening verse. Then the chorus explodes into a soaring pop melody plumped up with whirring strings and clanging cymbals.
The hyperactive, atmospheric “Runs in the Family” is my personal favorite on the album. It’s an older song that I believe Amanda wrote during the “Girl Anachronism”/”Half Jack” era, and it definitely sounds more like a Dresden Dolls piece than the rest. The Dolls association may be why Palmer hesitated to put the song on the album, but fortunately Ben Folds convinced her to include it.
It sounds like Folds whispering “manda” at the beginning of “Ampersand”, but I can’t say for certain. The ballad features some lovely piano work, and perhaps Palmer’s most heartfelt vocal performance. To be honest, I didn’t like it much the first time I heard it. Amanda’s deep voice is not the easiest fit for so soft a song. But the second time around, something in the song – the intimate lyrics I suppose, maybe the surprising vulnerability in her voice – clicked with me and it’s since become another favorite.
“Leeds United” is the first single from the new disc, a slinky punk stunner built around a marching band chorus and Palmer’s spatial raspings. The tune was recorded spontaneously during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a group of local Scottish horn players. The chilling “Strength Through Music” is a sparse piano ballad originally inspired by and written during the aftermath of Columbine, but Amanda did not record the song until those memories were reawakened by the recent Virginia Tech shootings.
The quiet is quickly ripped back open by the swaggering “Guitar Hero” (featuring guest East Bay Ray of The Dead Kennedys), a cynical ode to the video game and its addicts in which Palmer finally lets her wail go. St. Vincent‘s Annie Clark lends her operatic soprano to the tinkling duet of Carousel’s “What’s The Use of Wondrin”.
The advance disc I received lists “Oasis” as track ten, but it’s been called “Melissa Mahoney” elsewhere. I think the latter title is the true one, though both phrases are in the song’s lyrics. Either way, Palmer refers to it as “a pop song about abortion”. “The Point of it All” is a heartier ballad that accentuates the more elegant tone of Amanda’s voice, while the pretty piano melody “Another Year” serves as the album’s wistful finale.
Amanda Palmer – Runs in the Family (mp3) (removed at label’s request after permission granted by artist’s manager…the trials of legal blogging)