Ben Kweller – Changing Horses
Record Label: ATO Records
Release Date: February 3, 2009
Let’s go on over to Ben’s house and listen to some music!
Of course, this is only wishful thinking, but it’s hard not to feel at ease listening to Ben Kweller’s soulful, idiosyncratic, and wholly unabashed innocence. Since he was barely old enough to pick up a guitar, Kweller has turned the mundane details of growing up in small town America into a successful, and wonderfully accessible, music career. Each new album is a breath of open land, spread across the country from his time with Greenville, Texas-based band Radish (formed in 1993 when Ben reached the ripe old age of 12, dissipated in 1999) to his critically acclaimed solo full-length, Sha Sha (2002). Two albums, seven years, and two cross-country moves (from Texas to New York City and back again) later, Kweller is back with Changing Horses, and he still hasn’t stopped pushing forward.
While 2006’s self-titled release saw Kweller playing every instrument on the album, Changing Horses headed in a different direction. This time through, Kweller left the background music to his touring trio of nearly two years and moved behind the soundboard. Although he claims he didn’t set out to write a country album, that was pretty much the result. Penned for porches and late night diners, Changing Horses kicks up some dust, pulls out the slide guitar, and cracks open a few PBRs. There are lonely ballads (“Gypsy Rose,” “Old Hat”), rocky relationships (“Wantin’ Her Again”), and faithful affirmations (“Fight”). Mixing in jangling pianos, tight percussion, and lazy lap steel, each tune rocks a Stetson and a pair of worn leather boots lounging on a whiskey-soaked table.
More so than with previous releases, Changing Horses is essentially curve-ball free, which only adds to the album’s repose (think ‘relaxed,’ not ‘simple’). Some of the tracks recall other balladeers, such as “Gypsy Rose” (Bob Dylan) and “Sawdust Man” (Paul McCartney), but Kweller is at his best when he sounds, well, like himself. His ability to make his life that of all of us, the life of the elusive and yet pervasive Everyman, speaks from every corner of this album. The songs are all stories in their own yarn-spinnin’ way, but some carry more weight than others. “Ballad of Wendy Baker,” for example, was written over ten years ago following the death of a high school friend and it’s only grown more tragic with age. For the most part, though, this is a collection of well-weathered acquaintances, people and places we’ve met, known, loved, and lost.
Changing Horses might not shake you down to your spurs, but that’s not really the point. Kweller is a master of the familiar. He’s your adolescent-crush-turned-best-friend. He’s a walk through the old neighborhood at dusk. He’s that 1970s bathroom wallpaper that our mothers just can’t bear to part with. He’s our brother, our father, our cousin, our uncle, our friend. Most importantly, Ben Kweller is home.
i'm intrigued to see how this album sounds. i've never really been blown away by Kweller, but i don't think that's really his aim.
good review though. i think i saw a tumbleweed roll by as i was reading it...