Friday, July 22, 2011

Changing Horses by Ben Kweller

Ben Kweller is a pop/rock songwriter from Texas.

More info about him can be found here.

Changing Horses is Kweller's fourth album.

Young Ben Kweller is an artist carving a mark in music by recording and releasing original records and touring in the meantime.  Chances are, you can catch him in your area at least once a year.  Needless to say, he's a hard working guy.  He's also an artist never content  to sit back and churn out safe power pop instead choosing to follow the Muse, thus ensuring releases of well crafted and melodic songs.  Changing Horses is his trip to the country.

One would think growing up in a small Texas town would give him instant country singer-songwriter cred and that his previous releases would reflect this.  One would be incorrect.  That would have probably been too easy for Kweller.  Instead, he chose to rock, making decent pop records.  Each of Kweller's albums have a sense of moving forward and creating music on his own terms.  This may have been an album he's had in him all along, but felt like establishing himself before recording it.  Or maybe he just felt like making an acoustic record.

Kweller has alway had a knack for melody.  One of the things that makes his pop music so enjoyable is the fact that you can sing along with it.  He applies this gift compeltely to this project.  The pop melodies are wrapped in acoustic guitars, bass, drums, and some slide and pedal steel guitars.  Most of these songs could have probably been given the rock treatment and still retained their appeal.  However, the more laid back country settings work better with the lyrics.  Titles like "Gypsy Rose" and "Sawdust Man" are not rock songs.

"Old Hat" is a pretty ballad with a very deliberate beat and gorgeous harmony-laced chorus.  The song is filled with alot of musical space, which makes the payoff evern better.  Underneath the space of the verses, a pedal steel whines over a melodic bass line and sparse drumming.

Every track contains Ben's Epiphone acoustic.  Gone are the distorted electrics.  But don't be fooled by the "country" tag associated with this album.  Ben Kweller may be able to make great drinking singalongs like "Fight," but he never dives into a twangy country drawl.  He sounds like Ben Kweller always has with a straightfoward singing voice.

The highlight of the entire album for me is "On Her Own."  It's a classic Kweller road song about a girl breaking free with a huge hook and wide-open lyrics.  It's all driven by a solid back beat and a lilting pedal steel. 

Kweller is definitely a student of the art because like most good country records, it's a short listen.  Changing Horses never demands too much from its listeners but makes a concise statement.  Longtime Kweller fans will likely appreciate this detour and fans of Americana country-rock will welcome it.


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