Within the first few notes of Inclusions you’ll know this is going to be no ordinary musical journey. The tinny 31 second title track bleeds through like an ancient recording, wind instruments and percussion mimicking a field recording from Basque County, Spain. This from a boy raised in Kentucky on the sounds of bluegrass and old-timey music, schooled in classical cello, but not immune to the effects of his parents rhythm and soul and jazz collections, or the prevailing influence of hip-hop, particularly Lauren Hill. Ben Sollee invites all these places, people, and music into his new album, thus the title.
Ben Sollee’s music is so unique that it’s pointless to suggest it fits any particular category. Sollee is an intelligent man and he assumes the same of you. If mixing old-timey banjo with jazz clarinet seems an exciting thing to him, why explain that to you? If one song is a study in minimalism, why not make the next track a full blown pop song? Sollee doesn’t let conventional musical templates determine his direction. “Close to You” mixes strains of klezmer wind instruments with Appalachian autoharp, mandolin, and Solee’s ever present superb cello work. “Embrace” is a meticulously studied piece featuring only Sollee’s plaintive vocals and a unhurried cello.
As a lyricist Sollee has matured, using religious metaphors, historical references, and personal experience as fodder. “Bible Belt” is a decidedly jazz-influenced song that works as an examination of traditional expectations of relationships and the price for those who ignore the rules. “The Globe” uses the burning of Shakespeare’s theater to analysis the price of love. In one of the best uses of language, “Huddle on the Rooftop” is a lovely meditation on spirituality and faith in only five lines. The music offers enough emotion to carry the sparse lyrics. Producer Duane Lundy leaves room for room echoes, extraneous noise from a vibrating cello string, and an odd piece of tape of a singing child. Inclusions isn’t an album that will build a mass audience for Ben Sollee, but for those of us who are willing to buy the ticket, this is a musical trip with many destinations.
Ben Sollee and his band will be performimg at WYEP's Rock the Block fundraiser on Saturday, September 17th.