By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
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.