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Music Review: Ben Weaver – The Ax in the Oak

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Ben Weaver is a songwriter, musician, poet and artist – the press materials with his new album The Ax in the Oak state that Weaver lives in an old warehouse surrounded by organs, synthesizers, guitars, samplers, pianos, a dog, Polaroid cameras, sketch books, boxes of CDs, a Powerbook, and back issues of the “New Yorker.” He used all his skills and experiences to produce The Ax in the Oak. However, Weaver didn’t write the album at his place, he wrote most of it in Berlin, which may have given the album its tinge of weirdness and reserved feel.

Weaver’s sixth release, which is available on Bloodshot Records, is a pleasant stroll, similar to albums from Kind of Like Spitting, American Analog Set, and Red House Painters.

He deals out soft, weird, personal ballads set to guitars, gentle electronics, and some violins. As a writer with a book of poetry, many of Weaver’s songs feel like pleasant poems set to music. They lack any real musical hook, unfortunately.

A few of the lyrics are catchy and interesting/thought provoking – “my angels have all started loosing their legs, who put the blue roses next to Tennessee’s bed” – but I couldn’t tell you which song they are in or what the song is about – the CD kind of runs together. The Ax in the Oak was produced by Brian Deck (Iron and Wine, Modest Mouse and Califone) who has done fine work in the past, but here the words and the fairly benign music seem to blend together. The sound is crisp, but the album is a bit bland, nothing jumps up and screams for attention, point of view is hard to find in the repetition of sounds.

The Ax in the Oak is not an album to instantly take out of the CD player, but it is just a background piece of music and it takes a lot of hard listening to pull the good parts.
The most interesting part of this release is probably the artwork – crude drawings of telephone poles and telephone lines, with black crows throwing black shoes up on the lines. The song booklet has each song on a different page and each page has a telephone poll and some ominous black shoes hanging from the lines. Weaver may be a black crow, hanging around, right now he isn’t maturing into a bright, powerful eagle, but he has time to do it – he’s only 29.

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