Memorial Day Ceremony
By Gwyneth Doland
Ben Kweller On My Way (ATO/RCA)
Once, playing the Velvet Underground's "After Hours," on my boom box, my uncle asked me if I had recorded myself singing. It wasn't a compliment: Mo Tucker sang so girlishly off-key that he simply thought I'd made a bad recording of my own bad voice. But I liked the way she sounded. The vulnerability in her voice matched the yearning of the song. In a similar way, there's something endearing about Ben Kweller's voice. He's got to be in his early 20s but he sounds like a teenager when he sings; his voice is tentative and almost cracking until he bursts into a shouting chorus. Especially on the title track, "On My Way," when Ben sings to his mom, "I'll kill him with karate that I learned in Japan," you picture a gawky kid something like the main character in Napoleon Dynamite. Pretty and simple, just Kweller and a guitar, could it have been recorded at a coffeehouse open mic night?
But they're not all acoustic ballads. There are some indie goodies here too. "Ann Disaster" is bare bones but one of the strongest songs on the album. It's repeated line, "I know what you want / you want a piece of me," is rousing shouter that every high school girl band should be covering. Kweller's musical talent shows through in the diversity of the album; he not only sings and plays guitar but also plays piano like he's got a secret stash of Billy Joel records he stole from his parents. If "Different But the Same," reminds you of Ben Folds that's probably because the two are friends who toured together a few years back. (Kweller also appeared on Folds' EP The Bens.) Of course this diversity makes for a somewhat uneven, jumpy listening. Even if you hate singer-songwriter stuff you'll have to admit Kweller's got it. He'll only get better with age.
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