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More solos & sides

by Gregg Shapiro

More solos & sides

When you think of the trio Ben Folds Five, the first man you probably envision is the enigmatic, singing, piano-playing frontman, Ben Folds. That's a given. But there were two other members, drummer and backing vocalist Darren Jessee, and bass and synthesizer player Robert Sledge. Jessee has kept busy since BFF has been on hiatus, working with Sharon Van Etten and Hiss Golden Messenger, and releasing albums with his band Hotel Lights. "The Jane Room 217" (Bar None) is Jessee's first solo LP. To be fair, there's a reason that Folds was the lead singer of BFF. But Jessee makes the most of his vocal abilities on the gorgeous "Dying Violins" and "Ruins." What makes the album worth hearing is the songwriting, at its best on "Leaving Almost Ready," "All But a Dream" and "Plastic Bag."

R.E.M.'s Peter Buck teams up with Joseph Arthur for "Arthur Buck" (New West). The synth-beats of opener "I Am the Moment" are a good indicator of the level of surprise that follows. The answer to "Are You Electrified?" is yes, while "American Century," "Wide Awake in November" and "If You Wake Up in Time" sound like necessary political statements.

The eponymous debut album by ShadowParty (Mute) opens with "Celebrate" giving listeners a reason to celebrate. Its band members connected to The Rentals, Devo, Bad Lieutenant, and New Order, ShadowParty casts an impressive silhouette. Its electronic-music influence merges the 1980s with the 21st century, best exemplified on "Vowel Movement," "Present Tense" and "Reverse the Curse."

Multi-instrumentalist Chris Thile is a gifted performer who has grown up before our eyes, having released his first solo album at 13. He teamed up with fellow young-uns Sara and Sean Watkins to form the modern bluegrass trio Nickel Creek. MacArthur Fellow Thile has an abundance of energy to burn (he replaced Garrison Keillor as host of NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion"), and Punch Brothers is another of his musical outlets. Along with Punch Bros. Noam Pikelny, Chris Eldridge, Paul Kowert and Gabe Witcher, Thile creates progressive bluegrass on the quintet's fifth album "All Ashore" (Nonesuch).

Glen Phillips was in his teens when his band Toad the Wet Sprocket signed its major-label record deal. TTWS had a few hit singles, including "All I Want" and "Good Intentions." Phillips soldiered on with his solo career. His latest solo album, "Swallowed by the New" (Compass) features the exquisite "Leaving Oldtown."

Did anyone doubt that "In the Drink" (Epitaph), the solo debut by Justin Courtney Pierre of Motion City Soundtrack, would sound like an emo album? A collective sigh of relief can be released as Pierre doesn't disappoint. The handclaps and disco beat on "Shoulder the Weight," with the memorable line, "I used to feel things/then I got older," are a nice diversion.

Sebastien Izambard of Il Divo fame makes a break for it on his solo album "We Came Here to Love" (eOne). The vocalist puts some distance between himself and mates as his song selection favors electric guitars and beats. The dance-oriented "Easy" might be his most obvious declaration of independence.

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