Ben Kweller - Changing Horses
For Ben Kweller's entire career up to this point, people have been hesitant to bring up the dreaded ‘e' word, when really they should've been championing him as an artist who brought some credibility to the emo genre. His first three albums of vulnerable, minimalist rock were endearing. This time around, he reimagines himself as an indie-country troubadour, adding twangy guitars and rural themes to his minimalist approach.
Kweller goes to unnecessary lengths to make some of these songs fall into his genre of choice. ‘Old Hat' is a legitimately great song, except for the slide guitar shoehorned in to make it a thematic fit. On the more realized songs like ‘Fight,' it turns out Kweller lacks the personality to match the music. The album's best song, ‘Sawdust Man,' is the only time that he finds a decent middle ground between those two obstacles.
Kweller starts to hit his stride in the album's second half, but Changing Horses never gets beyond homage territory - it seems as if country music is an intellectual enterprise for Kweller, not a passionate one, and the music suffers for it.
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on 2009-04-17 tosnob Said:
On his new album Changing Horses, indie popster Ben Kweller returns to his Texas roots with his first all-country record.
From the first chords of Hank Williams-style "Gypsy Rose" it becomes obvious that this will be the "wife ran away with the dog" kind of country rather than the slick new country.
If Matthew Sweet and Ryan Adams were to have a bastard lovechild he would pen songs that sound like these.
Kweller's clever lyrics and knack for the pop hook translate remarkably well into the country realm. "On Her Own" and "Hurtin' You" are the type of singalong you expect from Kweller while "Things I Like To Do" is just dripping with wit, making him sound like a twangy Evan Dando.
One can tell Kweller is serious about this effort and he's not doing country with any tongue-in-cheek. You can almost feel the sawdust and peanut shells on the ground and smell the stale beer when you listen to the party stomper "Sawdust Man".
The album is best when Kweller is playing uptempo. The lead single "Fight" is destined to be a truck driving road anthem.
Some of the slower tracks, like "Ballad of Wendy Baker", do tend to drag. However, possibly the album's best track is the slow-mover "Old Hat" one which Kweller laments 'I never wanna be the old hat you put on your pretty head'. It makes for a very pretty song.
Changing Horses isn't perfect, but it is a hip pocket full o' fun.