Of the parade of capable male singer-songwriters to emerge in the past year or two (David Gray, John Mayer, Ryan Adams, Pete Yorn, etc.), Ben Kweller may very well be the best- and at 20, he's younger than Britney Spears. Kweller's fantastic debut album, "Sha Sha," was released earlier this year by ATO Records.
The singer/guitarist/pianist Kweller, who was part of the Texas-based trio Radish before moving to Brooklyn and going solo last year, rotates among pop, folk, traditional-rock, and post-punk styles, yet just about all of it works. After hearing the piano-heavy opening track, "How It Should Be (Sha Sha)," for instance, I was wondering if I'd gotten Ben Kweller confused with Ben Folds at the record store. The first single, "Wasted and Ready," is decidedly more Weezerish and likely to hook teenage emo fans, even if the rest of the album is decidedly un-emo. "Lizzie" is a solid acoustic guitar number, while the closing "Falling" is a melodic delight.
Despite his marvelous voice and exemplary musical arrangements, Kweller is, predictably, rather immature as a lyricist, coming up with such goofy lyrics as "She goes above and her call of duty/She is a slut but X thinks it's sexy/Sex reminds her of eating spaghetti." There's also stuff that would make no sense in standard conversation, like (from "Commerce, TX) "That's my new best friend, Ann Disaster's her name/We're passing out on the carpet and our attributes are the same." Yet coupled with the rest of the presentation, the wacky words are more endearing than off-putting. And keeping with the theme of the album's title, there are all sorts of "sha-sha"s "bop-bop"s, and "ooh ooh ahh ahh"s throughout.
The more I hear "Sha Sha," the more I like it. It's rather infectious, and anyone listening will likely be singing along to every song by the fifth spin. You can even debate whether the singer is Jewish- in a seeming non-sequitur, at the end of the chorus of "Lizzy" he randomly inserts a quick "Dayeinu"!
Ben Kweller, judging from this excellent debut album, has quite a future ahead of him in the music, as long as the men-with-guitars trend doesn't go the way of Lilith Fair anytime soon. But in a year of solid newcomers to popular music, Kweller is definitely one of the most impressive. Not bad for a guy born in 1982.