When I was an adolescent the only things on my mind were girls, the anticipation of obtaining my driver license, and wondering when the new Vandals record was going to be released -- regardless of what some bogus super model will tell you, this was the simple life. For Texan teenager Ben Kweller, life was considerably dissimilar and ever so frantic. Generally, unless you are a young male with a cunning, stunning voice you will not be courted by a major label during your high school musician years. The young Kweller however was quite an exception to this rule. At the ripe age of 12 he along with two friends Bryan Blur and John Kent formed the profoundly Nirvana-influenced group Radish. By 1995 the band had signed to Mercury Records, where they released two full-lengths, toured the country, and even delivered a handful of performances on the late night television circuit. All this before they could legally engage in military combat. Nonetheless, despite the hype and endorsements Radish was never considered much beyond a novelty and were promptly forgotten.
Over a decade later we find a completely different Ben Kweller. The twenty-something currently has two solo records under his belt, a wife, and as of May a charming newborn son named Dorian. When Ben reinvented his musical career with 2002’s Sha, Sha you could feel the direction he was striving for, his musical talent grew, but as a solo performer he still had a copious amount to learn. On My Way found our protagonist maturing in every direction and for the first time in his musical career he able to focus on his own signature sound and define himself as an imperative musician in contemporary rock‘n'roll.
Mr. Kweller’s latest and self-titled studio effort develops the soul of On My Way by intuitively combining his influences over the years. The confluence of talent and wisdom is immediately recognized, as Ben looks back on his storied career while surging onward during the opener “Run.” His voice, sturdier and mellower than ever marvelously croons on the starter, “Since 15, I have ran everywhere you can run, but together is much better so let’s run, let’s run…” While he has grown as a songwriter, his voice maintains a youthful tone, pausing and holding syllables as if he was a nervous teenager giving his first public speech in front of classmates. He is confident and well spoken though and knows when it is appropriate to govern the microphone and the audience. This is ever so perceptible on the album closer, “This Is War,” which originally appeared on the Bad News Bears soundtrack. The song is a swift rocker that adds an energy severely missing from modern rock music -- the guitars and drums pulsate vigorously during the verses and settle just in time for the chorus so that Kweller can shine vocally.
Seeing as the artist resides in Texas I was always surprised at the lack of southern musical influence in his songs. You can find dashes here and there, but never enough to change the flavor of the dish. Conversely, several songs on the new record adjust the recipe slightly with a variety of alt-country. “I Gotta Move” is a pleasurable jingle that resonates perfectly for a mid-summer drive down a parched Texas highway. Although its foundation is built on a pop-rock melody “I Don’t Know Why” reaches brilliance because of the southern itch in the guitar. Near the end of the album “Red Eye” again finds Ben’s guitar flirting with a country sound, this time the picture not so cheerful as he paints a melancholy image. BK’s positive devotions to love in the majority of his lyrics are clearly his forte, but this sorrowful abnormality will garner your heart’s interest.
Musical diversity is a significant phase each celebrated artist encompasses, but the clever ones are those who can combine their past accomplishments with their foresight seamlessly. The album’s single “Sundress” corresponds well with this description. The tune is as upbeat as Kweller has ever been and a supple keyboard melody á la the Get Up Kids humming in the background truly escalates this song into one of the finest in his catalog. Ben Folds and Ben Lee have proved to be excellent mentors for the younger Ben as you can equally hear their influence on several tracks (“Nothing Happening,” “Thirteen”), but they are nothing more than a stimulus behind his own imagination. "I’ll wait for something good, for something great" is a lyric from the nimble “Penny on the Train Track” -- prominence is near; if BK keeps up the pace he will not be waiting long.
Ben Kweller’s life has been heavily dictated by pressure. Being deemed a potential prodigy at such a young age and failing to achieve such astronomical standards could ruin one’s self-esteem and outlook towards a music career. Thankfully Mr. Kweller refused to let that impair his vision, as after several attempts he was competent enough to create the premiere piece in his discography. Not every song is overly powerful, but there is not a single flop on the eleven tracks that grace Ben Kweller. Progression in songwriting and execution are natural processes for someone with immense aptitude, but the ability to develop those skills in a cohesive manner is what makes a respectable artist a distinguished one and Ben Kweller has achieved this dignified status.