Ben Sollee - Learning to Bend

Number of Discs
Release Date
Ben Sollee
CD / Album
Label / Studio
sonaBLAST! Records / Thirty Tigers


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When you think of folksingers walking down the long lonesome road, you usually think of them with a guitar slung over their shoulder. Ben Sollee's a wandering folksinger too, but he's dragging a cello behind him as he drifts from town to town, club to club. Like Crooked Still's Rushad Eggleston and Tristan Clarridge, who play old-time and bluegrass music on the instrument, Sollee is interested in breaking cello stereotypes. He's played blues with Otis Taylor and new whatchamaycallit Chinese grass with Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn in the Sparrow Quartet. On his debut album, Sollee takes a giant step in reinventing his instrument with ten original tunes and one unexpected cover tune. On "How to See the Sun Rise" Sollee turns in a soulful vocal whilst playing bowed triplets on the cello. The '50s feel is augmented by Clayton Vaghn's bass, with Dick Sisto's jazzy vibes coming as a pleasant surprise. It's a beautiful bit of retro R&B with a simple, elegant lyric. "Bury Me with My Car" has a rompin' stompin' country chorus and a verse that references Egyptian, Roman, and Chinese burial rituals, all cultures that buried important people with their boat/chariot/saddle. It's hard to tell if he's protesting or celebrating American car culture, which gives the tune a nice edge. "It's Not Impossible" is a poignant acoustic rocker with a lead banjo and some smooth sax work by Jacob Goran; Sollee's bowed cello underscores his vulnerable lead vocal as he sings of his inability to cry. "Boys don't cry" he laments, hoping all the while for "the kiss that brings tears to my eyes." Sollee plays finger-style cello to complement his brother Bob's folksy guitar picking on "Prettiest Tree on the Mountain," a perfect country heartbreak song. Sollee rewrote Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," and delivers the new lyrics in an effortless tone that has uncanny echoes of Cooke's style. The drums and rhythm guitar give the rhythm a slight reggae lilt that fits the tune perfectly. "A Few Honest Words" is addressed to George W., it's a slow tune that combines R&B and old-time fiddle music to take the President to task for his lies. Sollee's short solo, plucking and bending the strings of his cello, and his sincere vocal, make it a beautifully gentle protest song. Sollee was classically trained on the cello, but he's interested in taking the instrument in new directions and his first solo effort is a giant step in redefining the instrument's parameters. ~ j. poet

1) A Few Honest Words (03:44)
2) How to See the Sun Rise (03:27)
3) Bury Me with My Car (02:13)
4) Bend (04:01)
5) It's Not Impossible (03:21)
6) I Can't (03:08)
7) Prettiest Tree on the Mountain (02:26)
8) Panning for Gold (04:28)
9) A Change Is Gonna Come (03:37)
10) Built for This (03:24)
11) Copper & Malachite (05:37)

Learning to Bend
RED Distribution
Main Format
Explicit Lyrics
Keyword Index
Learning to Bend | Ben Sollee