Say what you will about the musical stylings of Dave Matthews, but as a record company exec the guy is batting a thousand in 2002. His boutique label imprint ATO (According to Our) Records has put out a couple of the best releases of the year in Patty Griffin’s 1000 Kisses and this disc from wunderkind popster Ben Kweller.
At the age of 20, Kweller has already led his band Radish to a top 40 hit in the UK, broken up the band, and opened gigs as a solo artist for the likes of Evan Dando and Jeff Tweedy. Following up a couple of self-released solo discs, Sha Sha finds him borrowing the over-amped guitar crunch of Weezer on tracks like “Wasted & Ready” and “Harriet’s Got a Song.” There are also a couple of sweet piano tunes that would make Ben Folds jealous, “In Other Words” and “Falling.” On the former, Kweller sings, “The butterflies are passive aggressive / And put their problems on the shelf / But they’re beautiful.” Around the edges you’ll hear banjo and pedal steel, violin and cello. Kweller has a bit of Stephen Malkmus’ slacker vocal style and lyrical sensibility on tracks like “Walk On Me” and “Make It Up.” And he channels Elliott Smith on “Family Tree.”
Nothing revolutionary here but if you like modern pop leavened with great melodies, energy and humor, Kweller is worth a listen. And who cares if Dave Matthews is his benefactor?