One of the most enjoyable parts of my job in the Communications department is learning about the artists we present (or in this case "co-present"). And I must admit, I'm currently smitten with young Ben Sollee.
The twenty-something performer, still relatively "unknown" by the general public, already has a National Public Radio "archive" of articles and interviews in his name.
NPR Music pegged him as one of the Top 10 Great Unknown Artists of 2007. Sollee made the list along with...well, I'd name the other artists on the list, but let's face it, you probably wouldn't know them. I'd never heard of them either.
I've struggled to find adjectives to describe what I like about his music. If pushed, I'd have to say "Ben Sollee writes and performs music that is refreshing, intelligent, and hopeful."
That may sound like a very tame and altogether lame endorsement for a live musician, but hear me out. Better yet, listen to Ben playing live on WXPN's World Café with David Dye.
At a glance, Sollee is fresh-faced and non-intimidating. If you can judge a book by the cover, he's a nice guy. He accompanies himself on a cello (not an electric guitar) and he's a Louisville boy. Those tidbits and the NPR nod were enough to get me into Ear X-tacy recently to pick up a copy of his 2008 release, Learning to Bend.
It's easy to describe what Sollee's music is "not". He does not write music that is brash, macho, swaggering, loud, threatening, ignorant, angry or oppressive. Nor does he "whine".
In a pleasant, pliable, welcoming voice that reminds me of Amos Lee, Sollee sings original songs that are deceptively simple, melodic, thoughtfully concise, and sometimes funny. Claiming Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett as key influences for the songs on Learning to Bend, Sollee has also logged time playing bluegrass-inspired folk-rock as a member of the Sparrow Quartet with Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn.
I'm curious to see how much cello he actually plays live, as you don't hear much beyond rhythmic scratching (like the "chuck" of a rhythm guitar) on Learning to Bend. I'm sure my own ear needs retraining. I'm probably listening for classical cello - which is not Sollee's bag.
Sollee plays in Louisville May 8 at The Kentucky Center. It is a general admission show with a $20 ticket.
If you find yourself in need of refreshment, either from too much Derby action or just the daily energy drain of existing in a recession and dodging (take your pick) downsizing, terrorists, or swine flu, I hope you'll consider taking in his show.
If you're a Ben Sollee fan, I'd appreciate hearing how you describe his music and the effect it has on you. Post a comment below and help me build my musical vocabulary.
About the author: Chris Long is eCommunications Manager for The Kentucky Center. The opinions expressed in this post are her own and should not be viewed as a reflection of the Center's mission, positions, opinions or strategies.