Ben Kweller

Changing Horses (ATO/Red)

Ben Kweller's sound is constantly evolving. It's shifted from garage-band yelps to piano-ballad coos, from electric feedback to acoustic resonance and, this time, to quote Alan Jackson, "He's gone country, back to his roots."

Kweller's down-home charm permeates Changing Horses, which was recorded the old-fashioned way: self-produced, put to tape live with a full band and with nary a computer in sight. And the recording marks Kweller's first complete rock departure, diving Stetson-first into the country soundtrack of his childhood in Greenville, Texas.

The album begins with "Gypsy Rose," sliding lazily in and out of time and featuring a bluesy dobro by Kitt Kitterman, who also masterfully tinkers the pedal steel on "Fight," an inspirational tune with the big-tent revival sound of The Oak Ridge Boys.

Kweller penned the poignant, simple elegy "Ballad of Wendy Baker" when he was just 16, and it's undeniably the most heart-wrenching tale in his catalog. Then, almost jarringly, the album switches gears with "Sawdust Man," where the come-hither refrains of a big-rig trucker mix with Kweller's sprightly piano work.

By dabbling with pitch-perfect software on his eponymous 2006 LP, Ben Kweller lost the sincerity to his music, if but for a moment. Changing Horses more than atones for the transgression, leaving his fans with some dirt under their fingernails and offering a bit of Texan nostalgia.

 
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