By Gilbert Garcia
If you define great songwriting as the ability to convey things that most people feel but are too embarrassed to say, Ben Kweller qualifies as a great songwriter. The 22-year-old Texas native has a highly developed sense of pop craftsmanship, but what really makes his songs stick to your cardiovascular system is the wide-eyed youthful ebullience he brings to the most commonplace observations.
It's a trait that can't be faked. Coming from another artist, a line like "I am the book and you are the binding" (from the 2002 song "Family Tree") would risk hazardous levels of radioactive cutesiness. But Kweller is an anomaly: a sensitive singer-songwriter who also possesses the hellbent spirit of a punk rocker.
With his 2002 breakthrough CD, Sha Sha, Kweller found the perfect balance between goofball piano pop ("How It Should Be"), slacker rock ("Commerce, TX"), and open-hearted acoustic balladry ("Lizzy"). His new release, On My Way, finds BK more assured but no less earnest. It's hard to think of another young songwriter who would pen a loving ode to his apartment ("the home where I hide/away from all the darkness outside"), but Kweller is so fun-loving and loose that his sincerity never feels like a drag.
At moments like that, Kweller - better than any troubadour since Jonathan Richman - celebrates the wonder of life's simplest pleasures and temporarily makes you feel guilty for ever harboring a cynical thought. •