Review by Vince Amoroso
Ben Sollee: Think Chris Wood meets the cello. With a soulful voice beyond his years, and playing abilities to boot, Sollee combines a rustic-country feel with subtle R&B flavor on his debut album Learning to Bend (2008/sonaBLAST!) Hitting stores today, June 10, Sollee's album seems like a clever adaptation of a Wood Brothers record. There is nothing wrong with that. Substituting a cello for Standup bass, the differences are such that Sollee's LP sounds genuine. Using bowing techniques to produce a more percussive feel and fingerpicking reminiscent of Victor Wooten at times, Sollee's cello playing is unconventional to say the least - that’s the draw however.
Comprised of upbeat numbers such as the soon to be NPR stand-by's "A Change is Gonna Come" and "How to See the Sun Rise," Sollee combines with skillful musicians producing rich melodies that beget repeat listens. Bend is full of extremely accessible songs that are porous, easy to grasp and will have a long shelf-life.
Cue cameo appearances by Bela Fleck on track five "It's Not Impossible" and Sollee has crafted quite a mature and established album. The only drawbacks to Bend are the multitude of instruments accompanying Sollee on certain songs. Violins, guitar, banjo, sax, organ, viola, percussion, fiddle, vibes, harp all would be fine if Sollee's cello playing was not the centerpiece. At times, we loose the cello, when we originally bought the album because of the cello. That is what makes Ben Sollee's live performances captivating - he is stripped down, doing what he does best, allowing his renegade cello stylings to drive his music. But for a debut record, Sollee has done well for himself.
(Special thanks to Jeff at Crash Avenue Publicity for this one)