On previous recordings, singer/songwriter Ben Kweller’s exhibited a penchant for American folk/roots music; but these elements appeared around the edges of prevailingly pop material. Kweller’s latest release, Changing Horses, presents the singer-songwriter in a more ‘countrified’ vein. Evoking the roots music he listened to as a youngster, Kweller’s material has taken on more than the surface artifacts of the genre. While one can name a host of influences abundantly present, ranging from the Band and Dylan to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Jayhawks, this stylistic exploration has revealed new depths in his songwriting.
Notably, Kweller reveals an ear for the musical subtleties of his source material. With surfaces that consist of loping grooves and ‘oom-pah’ basslines, “Sawdust Man” and “Desert Rose” is filled with myriad rhythmic twists – including shifts from simple to compound meters – and unexpected turnarounds. Correspondingly, despite a straightforward design, “Ballad of Wendy Baker” revels in embellishing the vocal melody with sinuous chromaticism; his singing is also at its supplest here. But Kweller’s also willing to inhabit the earnestly straightforward; “Fight” is an uplifting hootenanny, with a sing along chorus and copious lap-steel embellishments.
Let’s hope Kweller continues to ride this horse a while longer.