Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ben Sollee - Learning to Bend (LP, Sonablast!)

I picked up this album based on the recommendation of my friendly record store guy, and was instantly pleased. I've never heard him before, although the 24-year old has been around awhile - touring with bluesman Otis Taylor and later a part of The Sparrow Quartet. Learning to Bend is his first solo effort.

Ben Sollee is another in a long line of wandering folksingers. However, instead of a guitar slung over his shoulder, he has a cello. The liner notes for the album state, "It was the cat-poles around the lake at his grandfather's farm that inspired Ben Sollee's debut album Learning To Bend. The frailty of those awkward looking plants standing stoutly against winds that challenged even the strongest of nearby trees is an affecting metaphor for human struggle and perseverance." Ben plays heavyweight as he pens songs about the current political climate, as well as delving into more personal stories along the way. Learning To Bend is filled with songs weighed down with one overwhelming theme - that bending under the heavy weight of something is harder to do at first, but it is the only way to survive.

Despite the heavy theme, the tracks on this album are all personal and friendly. Ben Sollee effortlessly flits from style to style, from retro R&B to folk and old-time fiddle music. The highlight of the album has to be Sollee's rewrite of the Sam Cooke classic, "A Change is Gonna Come".

Sollee was classically trained on the cello, but its apparent that he's interested in taking the instrument in new directions. His first solo effort is a giant step towards that. The album is available on 180 gram white vinyl.

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