Tag Archives: Ben Kweller

That letter’s done ‘K…

I did a much pacier job on the letter K. This letter was overpopulated with impressive works from solo singer-songwriters (of varying vintages), saw a lot of retro rock from very hirsute lads, and featured stinkers from a couple of acts.

Here’s the resultant top 10:

  1. Paul Kelly – “Greatest Hits – Songs from the South Volumes 1 & 2″
  2. Ben Kweller – “Changing Horses”
  3. Carole King – “Tapestry”
  4. Ben Kweller – “Sha Sha”
  5. Kings Of Leon – “Youth and Young Manhood”
  6. Ben Kweller – “Ben Kweller”
  7. K’Naan – “The Dusty Foot Philosopher”
  8. Kaiser Chiefs – “Employment”
  9. Ed Kuepper – “Sings His Greatest Hits For You”
  10. Kings of Leon – “Aha Shake Heartbreak”

Now looking at my singles pile, here’s an act I regret not getting to review:

And, now my customary question: what K albums did I miss that you’d recommend?

448. Ben Kweller – “Changing Horses”

All hail an artist willing to undertake a complete makeover four albums in…

The shift to country-music was not a complete shock, as Kweller has always been one to strap on the acoustic or call for more pedal-steel.

But this album sees him embrace honky-tonk and bluegrass. And what a damn fine hootenanny he throws for us faithful listeners.

BK’s joie de vivre has always been a big chunk of his appeal, and bringing this positive outlook to the country genre is a welcome respite from the ‘my dog died/my truck don’t run’ vibe that weighs down many of the dusty booted balladeers.

This album is chock full of all that is fun and right – trucks, bars, greyhound buses, love going great  – and Kweller seems refreshed and reinvigorated on the songwriting front.

The album opens well with Gypsy Rose, hits hillbilly heights with Fight (that line about aces, faces, 2s and 3s gets me every time), nails Beatlesque skiffle with Sawdust Man, and makes a play for alt-wedding waltz on Things I Like to Do:

What makes this BK’s most satisfying opus (thus far) is that he treats the slower songs with greater care/acumen.  He delivers a track with a chorus perfectly suited for a sitcom about a feisty twenty-something Mary Tyler Moore-type making her way in the big smoke:

File under: BK backed a winner

447. Ben Kweller – “Ben Kweller”

There is a logic to this the third album in Kweller’s discography being the first self-titled effort, as it is a true solo effort (i.e. he plays every instrument).

Not that you can tell, as he is an adept little multi-instrumentalist.

He doesn’t attempt anything different on this release. If anything he bridges the gap between his energetic debut and more restrained second release.

I have a strong preference for his more up-tempo work.  Tunes such as I Don’t Know Why, Run and the biggest keeper Penny on the Train Track are highly competent power-pop.  The first of those three tracks has a couple of nifty little country riffs that hint at a new direction.

The latter gem is Kweller at his best, and after seeing this video today (featuring his grandma) I’m even more impressed:

The slower stuff on here I find much more hit and miss.  His homage to young love (yet another song titled Thirteen) out Ben Lees that other Ben in its naïve enthusiasm. Other tracks such as Magic and Until I Die are very skip-button worthy.

File under: Sweller Kweller

 

446. Ben Kweller – “On My Way”

Earlier this week I caught a screening of 80s teen-vampire flick ‘Lost Boys’ at a rooftop cinema.

All performances by humans/vampires were laughably bad.  The only passable acting was the malamute who played Nanook.

The three such canines on the cover of this album are almost the best things about it.

Kweller abandons much that was exciting about his debut on this CD.  He slows it all down and gets all earnest singer-songwriter. His vulnerable voice is exposed and the songwriting seems rushed and is just too dull.

He does deliver one keeper in the title track, which manages to sound like he’s ad-libbing a series of variations (folk music style) and has a cool line about karate:

When, some time in the distance future, they produce a double aural implant of Benjamin Kweller Esquire’s greatest hits, I’m thinking that’ll be only song from this album you’ll find.

Perhaps he should have covered this song (and hired the sax player – who reportedly played with Tina Turner in the 80s):

File under: It’s my way, or the highway Benny Boy

445. Ben Kweller – “Sha Sha”

I encountered mop-haired indie-pop wunderkind Ben Kweller when he was the mysterious third amigo in The Bens (alongside Folds and Lee).*

He came across as a nice hybrid of these two and almost every other upbeat, guitar-wielding, power-pop folk-rocker you can imagine.

This debut captures that first experience perfectly.  Ben bashes out eleven happy, slacker-friendly little gems, all guaranteed to have you swaying and jumping and grabbing a tennis racket.

This is Beck without any of the gadgetry, Weezer with no cynicism, the Lemonheads without the opiates.

Ben has a rosy take on the world that is infectious (while not cloying), and an ability to construct songs that seem throwaway but are actually deftly constructed memes you couldn’t ignore if you tried. The pick are Wasted and Ready, Falling, Walk on Me and Commerce, TX:

Anyone think he borrowed a Nirvana riff on this one?

File under: Sha(mbolic but) sha(rp)

*Alas the Bens never delivered their promised longplayer, and the sole EP (which is a ripper) went unreviewed.

An obligatory end of year list – best gigs of 2009

As we race towards the 1st anniversary of this blog, coupled with the end of 2009, I do feel compelled to produce some ranking lists pertaining to said year. Here’s my list of favourite gigs from 2009:

#5 Ben Kweller at the Corner Hotel, Melbourne, April 16 – the mop-haired little prodigy shows off his new country sound with his usual energy

#4 Syl Johnson at the Corner Hotel, Melbourne, February 14 – there may be few better ways to spend a Valentines than with a 72-year snake-hipped soul-funk legend

#3 Ben Kweller at Slims, San Francisco, June 17 - great night of drinking, dancing and singing BK Happy Birthday

#2 Justin Townes Earle/Wagons at the Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne, October 2 – bluegrass brilliance from Steve’s son, coupled with the swagger of new favourite Aussie live act

#1 Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings at HiFi Bar, Melbourne, January 2 – started out as gig of the year, and kept the mantle all year. Fantastic band fronted by the funkiest 52-year-old ex-prison warden I’ve ever seen.

OK, I’ll get back to the CD reviews.

What were your favourite live outings?