Ben Sollee: An Americana Essential
On August 6, 2011, Ben Sollee, joined by Phoebe Hunt, on violin, and Jordon Ellis, “on percussion,” played at Larimer Lounge in Denver, CO. Sollee, the singing-songwriting cellist, played one of the best live performances Denver has heard all year.
Throughout the show, Sollee continued to surprise listeners with his unique compositions and expansive musical talents. Before launching into his powerful track, “Bible Belt,” Sollee shared a few of his thoughts about his home. Despite being a “great lover of Kentucky,” he highlighted that his birthplace makes up only a portion of Sollee’s identity: “I take the parts that I love, take them on the road with me, and leave the rest on the table.”
Sollee seems to stubbornly adhere to the rule of not following the rules. His commitment to sing to the beat of his own cello unites the diverse influences and changing rhythms, which run through each of his tracks. You can hear the heavy influence of Kentucky bluegrass in his music; but a Kentucky birthplace does not a typical bluegrass musician make.
To fully appreciate Ben Sollee’s performance, it is essential to highlight the artist’s versatility. With a drum that rolled more like a Japanese bullet train than a slow-moving freight train, the trio was able to turn bluegrass into rock-n-roll in “Something, Somewhere, Sometime.” While there were other songs, like “Repetition” and “Close to You,“ that belong on everyone’s go-to make-out mix.
Tempo, however, was not the only moving part in Sollee’s bag of tricks. Sollee seamlessly moved from Honky-tonk to jazz, alternating Eastern and Western chords - creating a cohesive sound that is very much his own.
Sollee’s fervor for individualism, however, is not his only defining characteristic. The versatility and experimentation, present in his sound and approach, are equally important to his music. Sollee combines chords and rhythms, from all over the globe, to create a sound that is both unified and consistent. Strumming an electric cello, he seamlessly shifts from Folklorico to the Disco hit “Kung Fu Fighting.”
Sollee proves that mixing isn’t just for the pre-recorded artist. With pop’s current trend to mix just about anything into a muddled mess of studio edits, Ben Sollee may serve as a beacon of hope for some. My fellow audience member may have said it best, “His music makes me want to shout ‘Amen!’”