Release Date: Feb 3, 2009
Record label: ATO
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative, Country
It’s generally accepted that one would be ill-advised to change horses in midstream, whether it’s for fear of slowing the crossing or losing the rider. In the case of Ben Kweller’s swapping steeds on his latest release, it’s clear that he is in absolutely no danger of drowning. Kweller explains Changing Horses by saying “After the Beatles and before Nirvana, country music was the soundtrack of my life, the music that shaped who I am… this album focuses in on that one side of me.” And while it does wear the requisite Austin outlaw country accoutrements—the entire album is awash in shimmering pedal steel, for instance—it’s less about musical styles than it is about making stories come to life.
These days, there are more white, male, singer-songwriter troubadours than you can shake a stick at. In such a saturated market, it takes a certain something to break through and make people sit up and take notice, whether that be one killer tune of a calling card, an exploitable gimmick, or just a huge slice of good, old-fashioned luck. Ben Kweller has never particularly had any of those three, but what he has had to separate him from the crowd was time on his side.
Cherub-cheeked Texan Ben Kweller brings a whole lotta country twang to his fourth album, Changing Horses, and while this step away from his usual indie pop fare is by no means a disaster, it isn't all that interesting either. The instrumentation is ho-hum ("Let's throw a pedal steel on everything!"), and the songs feel long and loose, especially opener Gypsy Rose and the mopey Ballad Of Wendy Baker. [rssbreak] Better ones come near the end.
Ben Kweller No depression in Kweller’s countryIf there’s one bad thing about Ben Kweller’s previous three albums, it’s that they’re almost too affable, strung through with giddy piano, bouncy drums and bop-bopping, feel-good choruses about having fun, growing up, falling—and staying—in love. It’s punchy pop too sweetly guileless and too damn catchy to get grumpy about, which makes his fourth album, the self-consciously countrified Changing Horses, an even tougher bull to rope. He’s nodded to his Texas roots before, but on this collection meant to play up his twangy side, he seems scared of edging too far into the darkness of country music’s long, rich tradition.
Greenville native Ben Kweller has already been through a lifetime's worth of phases and stages – teenage rocker, power-pop maestro, acoustic balladeer – but his eponymous 2006 album, on which he played every instrument, signaled a coming of age. Changing Horses, his self-produced fourth LP, isn't quite the country & western crossover most would have you believe, more like the dirt road connecting his previous paths. The lonesome waltz of opener "Gypsy Rose" and saloon-style whoopin' in "Fight" feel chapped, comfortable, and confident, while "Old Hat" and "Hurtin' You," aided by the twang of pedal-steel newcomer Kitt Kitterman, take appropriate cues from the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo.