Ben Kweller – Changing Horses

ATO Records

In the Old West there was a trick to knowing when to change your horse. It was about maximizing distance and speed while saving your animal — choosing a new one before the old one became too weary or lame to survive the journey and collapsed beneath you. From this we get the metaphor of flogging a dead horse and other images of artists failing to challenge themselves. Rodeo trick riders on the other hand make something of a living off their ability to change horses on the fly and so there is also something to be said for established artists who attempt to pull this off.

If Changing Horses finds Ben Kweller hanging up his pop sensibilities for country and western flair and if most of the album seems to recall Bright Eyes’ “When the Brakeman Turns My Way” and Wilco’s “Walken” just remember that nobody minds that David Bowie once traded Ziggy Stardust for The Thin White Duke. They only care that he continued making great music. Clearly Kweller is hoping people will say the same about his songs. With ramshackle honky-tonk characters like those in “Sawdust Man” slow “I don’t want to be the old hat you put on your pretty face” laments and dustbowl “Gypsy Rose” ballads there’s a good chance they will.