2008 will be forever known as the year that revived folk. From Bon Iver to Fleet Foxes, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan to Laura Marling, Folk got more than its fair share of acclaim.
So what of 2009? Will Christian Prog Metal rise to the occasion? Or will Classical Rap Jazz take the biscuit? By the sounds of Ben Kwellerâ€™s latest, itâ€™ll be pure Easy Listening Country music.
Changing Horses is the musical equivalent of riding slowly through old West America on a trusty steed, heading to the nearest town to search for your lady. Itâ€™s as romantic as it is fragile and as easy going as it is moving. Itâ€™s Kweller stripping back his instrumental talent to produce a lighter LP that sits much closer to the heart than previous efforts.
Every track could be a hit whether itâ€™s the radio friendly On Her Own or the poignant Ballad Of Wendy Baker, each song holds something spectacular about it. Sawdust Man has a classic country structure and Kweller uses his voice brilliantly to add to the rhythm and timing making an already great song fantastic. This seems to be a recurring factor here as ...Horses is Kweller's strongest release to date vocally. Thereâ€™s no escaping the fact that his voice has only gotten stronger with time and you can see so much progression even this far into his discography.
Things I Like To Do is the most simple and joyful of ideas and is a highlight just for the innocence that it holds. â€œI donâ€™t know what to do, but I know what I like to do, I like talking at the diner instead of screaming in the noisy bar, I like walking into public places strumming this guitar. These are the things that I like to doâ€. Anywhere else it would come off as a little to â€œsimpletonesqueâ€ but slotting it in near the end of the album (after lyrically stronger songs) it instead becomes a relaxed affair that compliments the rest of the album.
Digging for problems is less difficult than you think as the album openly shows them off. Itâ€™s all very â€œAmericanâ€ in tone (though a lot of Country music tends to sound similar) but that seems deliberate. The LP sounds like it was made as a homage to the country and state that he grew up in (Texas) and so itâ€™s easier to forgive the Stars and Stripes feel. Another hiccup would be the â€œPopâ€ factor that many will no doubt see straight away. Songs like Fight and On Her Own contain choruses that repeat and swing and clap and chant and get everybody up on the dance floor for a jig so the "indier than thou" kids are unquestionably going to chastise the record. But dâ€™ya know what? Good. This album isnâ€™t made for them; itâ€™s made for fans of Ben Kweller and for people who like contemporary country music.
If you fit into that category, and many of you will be surprised to find that that could include you, then we urge you to go and grab this album. From start to finish it breathes life, energy, fun and emotion from an artist who looks destined to become a name that no one will forget.