Weird At My School: Ben Weaver

Smoke & Mirepoix

After 21 years of writing about pop music professionally, I’ve grown pretty tired of comparisons between food and music — especially any review that compares an album to flavors co-mingling in soup or stew. Don’t get me wrong, I use the word “simmer” in my prose more than most, but this practice just seems lazy. I don’t have anything against laziness, either — heck, I’m writing this in bed (honest!) — but the whole music-as-cooking metaphor ranks right up there with “Who are your influences?” as a rookie gaff that burns my britches.

Which means I have to tread very lightly as I praise Mirepoix And Smoke, the Bloodshot Records sophomore full-length from Ben Weaver. His weathered voice accompanied primarily by sparse guitar and banjo, framed with complementary backing vocals by Erica Froman, Weaver spins nine simple yet compelling originals that have become an integral part of my morning ritual of late: Wake up, feed the dogs, brew coffee, make toast, cue up Mirepoix And Smoke. The record is succinct, almost a half-hour exactly, and by the time it concludes I’m usually ready to shower.

Where the vittles come into this recommendation is in the back story. Weaver, who has been favorably compared to Tom Waits but to my ears sounds more like M. Ward or a less-whiny Conor Oberst, won raves for his 2008 debut The Ax and the Oak. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune called it the year’s “Best Minnesota album, period.” But promoting an independent release is draining work, and in 2009 Weaver took a break from touring to devote more time to his interest in the culinary arts. Thus, it was while working as a prep cook in a farm-to-table restaurant that many of the songs on Mirepoix And Smoke took shape. As somebody who has spent a lot of time dicing vegetables (I like to volunteer in soup kitchens) while his mind wandered, I can appreciate that process — and also the album title: mirepoix is combination of chopped onions, carrots and celery used as a flavor base in stocks, stews and sauces.

I’m not going to tell you what the music of Ben Weaver pairs well with. Nor will I resort to suggesting his songs are an acquired taste, because if you appreciate direct, quality musicianship and good storytelling, they’re not. Okay, I’ll stop circumnavigating all the food references that keep leaping to the forefront of my brain now, and simply let you judge for yourself: You can download the album track “East Jefferson” for free here. Try it, you’ll like it.

DJ El Toro hosts the variety mix show on Wednesday nights from 9 PM to 1 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and His weekly rant, “Weird At My School,” (usually) appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog. Please follow DJ El Toro (aka Kurt B. Reighley) on Twitter and/or Tumblr!

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