Crate Digging is a recurring feature in which we take a deep dive into a genre and turn up several albums all music fans should know about. In this edition, singer, songwriter, and bandleader Ben Folds shares his favorite piano albums.
Ben Folds definitely knows his way around the piano. It’s been his instrument of choice for over 40 years, and his mastery of the keys is evident in every note he plays.
But where exactly did his wide-ranging knowledge begin? What inspired him to keep developing his skills as both a piano player and songwriter? For one, like thousands of musicians, it came from jazz. Over Zoom, Folds tells Consequence that he played Ramsey Lewis’ Goin’ Latin “until the grooves were literally white, until they were crusted up and ruined” and that he determined early on that Duke Ellington’s Masterpieces album was indeed a masterpiece.
Of course, Folds found inspiration in similarly iconic piano players like Randy Newman and Elton John, but grew more fond of their live albums over their studio recordings. “It’s just a moment in time, so you’re getting an event,” says Folds of Randy Newman’s 1971 live album, Randy Newman Live. “It’s just really honest… you’re getting a glimpse into not only the creativity, but an event. And I think that’s lost very often in recordings.”
The music of Ben Folds’ life has played a major part in his identity, and his new album, What Matters Most (out June 2nd), seems to acknowledge these classic artists in a heartfelt way. Despite it being his first solo album in eight years, Folds is confident about the purity of the project and the long road of touring ahead (get Ben Folds tickets here). “I have an album coming out that I actually don’t dislike,” he tells Consequence rather sarcastically, “Which is nice, because usually, by this time I’ve found plenty to have a problem with!”
When discussing each of the 10 records, Folds is passionate as ever, and seems to prioritize a true, unwavering sense of creative freedom. He may enjoy classical interpretations of composers like Mozart and Beethoven, but he also finds himself drawn to the rambunctious freak outs in albums like James Booker’s Junco Partner (“It’s rabid,” Folds says about the LP). For Folds, these albums are defining piano records, all with contrasting styles, but all valuable documents of songwriters extracting the most out of their instrument.
Read on for Ben Folds’ list of the 10 piano albums that everyone should own.