Album – Learning to Bend – Ben Sollee

Posted by admin on June 29th, 2008

I’ve mentioned before my love of the cello, an instrument that in the hands of the right person, is almost able to speak. So when this album came in, my interest was immediate. Unfortunately though my interest was immediate, my listening schedule was not, so it’s only now, after having the able for a few months that I’m able to give it the attention it deserves. Fusing an interesting blend of genres, from folk and acoustic, to an occasional hint of jazz, this is an album that’s a real tour de force. The vocals also are a perfect companion to the music, clear and soulful.

The eleven track album opens with “A Few Honest Words”. A plucking cello starts the track and you know in an instant, that this is something quite different. Not too sure it’s the right track to open the album, as it’s quite a laid back, almost dark track. “How to See the Sun” in my opinion would have been a much better opener, which I can’t help but feel I’ve heard somewhere before.

For a title track, “Bend” is just a beautiful listening experience, from the wonderful use of the harp, to the great female accompaniment. This vocalist at times reminds me of another, whose name escapes me, but she’s featured on the Roger Waters album, “Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking”. Things liven up a little with, “It’s Not Impossible” and it’s here that I had this strange thought that this sounds like a Canadian artist, which I know isn’t the case, but there’s a sound that runs constantly thorough this album, that I’ve heard many many times here in Canada.

“Prettiest Tree on the Mountain” sounds a little like one of those early Elvis tracks, only not quite so rockin’, which in this case is a good thing. Ben even manages to pluck his way through a cello solo and for the first time, I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve ever mentioned a cello solo on Indie Launchpad and this is one of the reasons I get so excited when encountering an album like this. Too often people get trapped into stereotypes, pigeonholing their own tastes in music. Tell some people that this album has in it some wonderful cello and they’d probably run a mile and that’s pretty much the failing of main stream media.

“Panning for Gold” is probably one of my favorite tracks on the album. It has such a wonderful vibe to it, especially again the cello, that features throughout and I think a violin or two, it does take something of a lacadasical detour after three minutes however. “A Change is Gonna Come” is a reworking of the Sam Cooke classic and Ben manages to really take ownership of it. Not too sure about the saxophone on this track, which I think makes things a little too busy,

“Built for This” allows Ben again to flex his cello chops. This is one of those tracks that I can imagine being played on a fiddle, around a campfire. It has that real turn of the century feel to it. The final track “Copper and Malacite” again seems to draw influences from elsewhere almost sounding like it should be on the soundtrack to a western.

Conclusion : An album that manages to stand out from the crowd, for all the right reasons. A wonderful mix of instruments and music, result in a wonderful listening experience. This is one of those albums that while you could choose to have playing in the background, when you are in a mellow mood, but you get so much more out of it, if you consciously decide to sit down and really listen.

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