Tin Ear/Thirty Tigers
By Al Kaufman
Ben Sollee is a classically trained cellist. Wait, keep reading. He is also a man with strong pop sensibilities and a heart throb voice. It’s a voice full of yearning and longing, but sensitive enough to say he only wants to cuddle. Women’s hearts have fluttered over such a voice.
Add to that, the cello. Sollee does not play the cello, he encompasses it. He makes it bark and cry and fuck. He plays it within an inch of its life, but one can almost hear the instrument cry, “Please don’t stop.”
Inclusions opens with “Introduction,” a brief, carnival-like instrumental to let people know this is not some string playing folkie. It gives way to “Close to You,” in which Sollee offers up a nice blend of cello, mandolin and autoharp (all played by him), over which Sollee confesses he’ll do whatever it takes to reach a girl who is not interested. He cello squeals to convey the pain in “Hurting.” And Sollee employs a slow, simple banjo to perfectly set the scene on “Cluttered Mind.” It’s easy to see him sitting on a rocking chair in a shack, commenting on his immediate world.
Sollee shows off his songwriting prowess as well. “Captivity” encompasses Paul Simon-like wordplay and rhythms. “I Need,” a duet with Cheyenne Marie Mize, is full of the kind of sweet harmonies that make the Be Good Tanyas so enticing.
But “Embrace” is really what Sollee is all about. A stark, melody with just Sollee’s voice and cello. He politely sings of his desires while his strings vibrate and splinter in raw desire. It is a captivating experience.
Sollee is at his worst when he shoots for the mainstream, when he lets his cello take a backseat to Justin Craig’s guitar. There is nothing wrong with these songs per se, they are just nothing we haven’t heard before. On Inclusions, Sollee demonstrates again and again that he is capable of so much more.
Ben Sollee plays Eddie’s Attic on Wednesday, June 22.