Dayenu…? [Ben Kweller]

The concept of a singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar is all but dead in America, drowned by droves of Chris Carrabba clones screaming at the top of their lungs and breaking the strings on their friend’s Taylor at a party: “My bad dude, I’ll buy you some new ones.” So it’s understandable to be ecstatic when one finds an acoustic strummer who writes intriguing lyrics and has a clear and natural vocal timbre.

ben_kweller1

Ben Kweller seems to occupy the borders between pop, indie, and country, somehow etching a clever sound out of each and still maintaining a certain level of originality. Kweller’s lyrical style is what keeps him from falling into any of these genres fully. He is too smart for country, too relaxed for indie, and too honest for pop.

Ben’s roots explain, in some part, his musical variety–born in Cali, growing up in Texas, and moving to NYC at 19. There’s something overwhelmingly personal about Kweller’s writing that makes his songs hard to ignore to anyone who listens to his lyrics intently. From the musical and lyrical complexity of a song like Sha Sha on his First full-length album in 2000, to the simple charm of Magic on his 2006 self-titled LP, Kweller shows he’s not just throwing words around on top of music.

Let’s look at Lizzy on Sha Sha:

sign me up, i volunteerBen+Kweller
votes are in for lifeguard of the year
her feline past lives are plain to see
their similarities are shown in this life again

like mama said, dontcha let it go to your head
when ya know you’re being fed
i’m so proud to know you
lizzy, i’ll write, i’ll sing
telegraph, telegram
telephone, tellin’ you
i’ll be home soon
dayenu

we will wake when kitty licks
and in the morn, work takes her to maine
dressed and out the door by six
tomorrow is the first time liz can’t board my plane

like mama said, dontcha let it go to your head
when ya know your book is read
i’m so proud to know you
anna will take me to the port
as liz drives up i-95
me and my darlin’ keep love alive
even on texas time

like mama said, dontcha let it go to your head
when your town is painted red
i’m so proud to know you
lizzy, i’ll write, i’ll sing
telegraph, telegram
telephone, tellin’ you
i’ll be home soon
dayenu

This poem inevitably pulls you deep into a relationship between the speaker and Lizzy in a deeply personal way without using emotionalism.  It  retains honesty and simplicity in lines like “I’ll be home soon,” or, “I’m so proud to know you.” I think the best way to describe the language is: daily— he describes things that the speaker and Lizzy have shared in a way that makes the reader feel like they’ve experienced them with them: “anna will take me to the port/ as liz drives up i-95/ me and my darlin’ keep love alive/ even on texas time.

Kwellerslither

You might be intrigued to know what the word “Dayenu” means, like I was. It turns out it is a Hebrew word that approximately means “It would have been enough for us.” It is the name of a traditional hymn sung at passover to thank God for all the many things he has done for the Hebrew people. Kweller’s decision to use this word at the end of the chorus isn’t super clear but it seems that he is saying that he is grateful to have Lizzy despite the distance–that the little time they have is more than enough for them considering what they deserve to have.

Kweller’s latest album isn’t my favorite and is admittedly more “country.” It is most likely an attempt for Kweller to better adhere to a certain genre and therefore become marketable. Regardless, I hope he goes back to his old ways, even if he remains unknown to the masses.


fb

Advertisements