Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Ben Kweller's always been riveting in a certain way, with so many of the songs that he's allowed to slip out of his fingertips and over his teeth through the years. He's still impossibly baby-faced even after 27 years and four albums, but for some time now, he's had a knack for imparting his very simple and somehow very adroit wisdom - all of which comes from the olden fires, from the bearded and filthy finger-nailed farmer/rancher types and the old men who always ask for a toothpick after a meal, drink heavy beer and carry handkerchiefs in their back pockets for blowing their noses.
He's found a way to continue becoming more and more himself, while still remaining as close to the guy he seems to have always been. He's found a way to keep filling into his skin more and more, to keep getting more comfortable in the suits and flannels and vests of clothing that he picks out for himself in the morning. The cowboy boots and the jean jacket are parts of his birthday suit, as much skin as skin itself and the ideas and themes that he's most drawn to are not just figurative, but obsessions of a seeker, or an amateur philosopher - a philosopher of the self.
Kweller's married and has a young son, who on the morning of this taping was eating an egg and cheese McMuffin for breakfast in the studio lounge, still in his pajamas, and for anyone with both of those life situations, his progression into what is his new record Changing Horses is entirely relatable. Having children complicates life in many ways, but in the ways that are most concerted and meaningful, they turn life into a symposium of new perspectives. Country music was his life as a youngster growing up in Texas, playing in creeks, bass fishing and shooting BB guns - as he details in an introduction to this new work of his - but what he's making here isn't so much country music as it is just those dashed lines that are yellowed and broken on his road, not a genre or a sound, just the life that is his these days as a father and a husband. He's more so riding the same horse he's always ridden, the trusty steed that knows the caress of his boot soles against its muscled shanks and knows when he's put on a little weight, cause there it is in its sagging and achy back, sorer still after a ride.
The horse hasn't changed, just the hair has gotten lighter and the hop in its step has turned into less of an authoritative gallop. It's about aging and it's about the new priorities and the new liabilities that couldn't have been there when he was making Sha Sha or even On My Way, though Kweller was aptly able to mimic what those futuristic responsibilities might have been through careful observation and attentiveness to those old codgers who liked to chew the fat over cold ones or a chew on the back porch. Changing Horses is a record of a mature voice, of a man who has found what the good things in life really are. He's found - even through the characters that he's concocted - that personal happiness is such an easy endeavor, such an uncomplicated undertaking that it's almost laughable.
A deep cut on the album talks about all of the things that he likes to do and late in the song he admits that they don't seem like much, but they are to him. He likes sitting around the greasy spoon diner talking and it's not a bullshit line as he sought out Gus' around the corner from the studio - an admirably disgusting local establishment that still has a sign and a photo posted on the window that it once sold a winning lottery ticket about 20 years ago - to wind down after the session and to pick up BLTs for his bandmates. Kweller sings about the lazy way that he'd like life to work, the way he likes that he likes you and he likes simple love, true love. He understands himself and yet he gets that people get and make things complicated. It's all in the words he writes and sings in his sweet, rolling hill country way, confounding simplicity for the complications of normal interaction.
Ben Kweller Official Site
Ben Kweller's Newest Album Changing Horses Will Be Released Feb. 3