- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

The Bens

The Bens

Epic Records

The Traveling Wilburys joined forces to see how a quartet of superstars, plus Jeff Lynne, might sound if they locked themselves in a studio. On a more modest scale, The Thorns — Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins — did the same last year on a musical lark.

So where does that leave an even less famous but still clever trio, The Bens, Ben Folds, Ben Lee and Ben Kweller? Surely sharing the same first name isn’t enough to bond three indie-minded songwriters, is it?

Suffice to say this EP makes it clear the three musical minds subordinated their individual identities long enough to create a sound that justified the concept. Just don’t bother dusting off the term “supergroup” any time soon.

The trio released the EP to fans last year during an Australian tour, but it’s only now available to those without ticket stubs.

The opener “Just Pretend” is the kind of spontaneous, stripped down singalong that this kind of side project should inspire. Even the hurt in Mr. Folds’ caustic voice adds to the sweetness. Alternately harmonizing and swapping vocals, the trio builds toward a cathartic climax about romantic dishonesty.

“XFire,” with its ‘70s-era arena rock bridge, hits the hardest of the four tracks. “Stop!” is the least substantial of the offerings, but at least Mr. Folds, the most visible of the three, tones down his patented, often self-defeating, sarcasm. The song’s nonsensical chorus makes an adroit counterbalance to its confessional lyrics.

Ben Harper, your agent is on line 2.

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