Friday, April 25, 2008

Reviews:: Ben Sollee Learning to Bend

I'm not sure why more people aren't all over this young cellist from Louisville. Ben Sollee is probably better know for playing in The Sparrow Quartet (Béla Fleck's four-piece), but his solo work is not to be overlooked. He combines deft cello work (lot of plucking and some percussive bow work) with great instrumentation and a soulful voice that hits you with the honesty of Amos Lee. From the opening notes of his new record - Learning to Bend - he ponders love, the government, the state of the country he calls home and anything in between.

Usually with an opening number called a Few Honest Words, you'd laugh and wonder how lie filled the song really is, but when it comes to Sollee you really feel like every word he says is laced with truth. That sincerity is great, but for me it's how he's able to meld soul, bluegrass and roots in a way that I've never heard before that is so impressive. On It's Not Impossible, his vocals are reminiscent of Brett Dennen, but instead of Paul Simon influenced acoustic strums, Sollee sings over a blue grass banjo. He can simplify the equation with a simple acoustic love song like Prettiest Tree On The Mountain but even that track feels complete when it finishes with beautiful female harmonies.

He's able to raise your spirits with uplifting tracks like a nice rework of Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come, but he's able to make you take a look inside yourself with political anthems like Bend and Bury Me in My Car. Bend takes the shape of a Mark Berube track with emotion pouring out of every crack, as does the regret filled I Can't. The theme may be well used, but when Ben starts wondering why life worked out the way it did, and why it worked out completely different than he wanted you become attached to the song.

As summer inches closer, we all look for a bit of soul for the back porch or long drives to nowhere. Ben Sollee is definitely going to be a part of both for me.


For anyone here on the West Coast, The Sparrow Quartet is playing the Vancouver Island Folk Festival in July, along with Taj Mahal, the Weakerthans and Elliott Brood.

Posted at 12:35 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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