CD Review Ben Kweller 'Changing Horses'

Friday, February 20, 2009

BEN KWELLER "Changing Horses" The Noise Co./ATO

THE TWANGY guitar that opens "Changing Horses" leaves no doubt about the name of Ben Kweller's new steed: Country and Western. Yet most of the Texas indie-popster's new album isn't quite so old-timey as its stark, slow opener, "Gypsy Rose."

Kweller experiments not only with pedal-steel guitar and all-analog recording, but also with Nashville-style lyrics: truckers with hearts "strong as stone" and love that might be taken for granted like "the old hat you put on your pretty head."

Melodically, however, the disc's highlights echo the singer-songwriter's '60s-rock influences. If "Sawdust Man" resembles a timeworn ditty, it's the sort of faux-antique that John Lennon and Paul McCartney used to manufacture.

The most convincingly countrified of these 10 songs is the one Kweller didn't write. (Called "Homeward Bound," it dates from the 1960s but is not the Simon & Garfunkel tune.) Even with their pedal-steel accents, such uptempo originals as "On Her Own" are less rustic. "Give her rules, she'll break it," Kweller sings, and this ode to female emancipation also sounds like a new country-rock recruit's declaration of stylistic independence.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Thursday with the Watson Twins and the Jones Street Station at the 9:30 club (202-265-0930, Show starts at 8 p.m.

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