Any doubts that Ben Folds would remain in the shadow of his defunct trio were dispelled by 2005’s Songs for Silverman. On this release, Folds asserts his credentials as a singer/songwriter by emphasizing craft over flashiness. He displays his affinity for ‘70s pop/rock by enlisting arranger Paul Buckmaster (the string maestro behind Elton John’s Madman Across the Water) to orchestrate several tracks. Most importantly, Folds offers a batch of fine-crafted tunes and performs them with a strengthened sense of purpose. He reverts to his familiar smart-alecky persona in the likeably snide “Bastard” and the quietly insulting “Give Judy My Notice.” But sadness rather than sarcasm is the pervasive mood here, expressed in both personal (“Landed,” “Prison Food”) and cultural (“Jesusland”) terms. Folds is brilliant at capturing small, acute moments of feeling, as in “You to Thank” and “Sentimental Guy.” Most affecting are “Late” (a wistful tribute to his friend Elliott Smith) and “Gracie” (a lovingly-drawn portrait of his daughter). With a few exceptions (“Bastard” in particular), Folds restrains his flamboyant piano style in favor of more nuanced effects. All told, Songs for Silverman is a work of sustained inspiration and bittersweet charm.