Ben Sollee, "Ben Sollee and Kentucky Native" (Soundly Music)
Take a classically trained cellist with an adventurous spirit and strong feelings for his native Kentucky and what do you get? A brilliant new album that will warm the hearts of those who know and love the Bluegrass State — and just might encourage others to come calling.
On "Ben Sollee and Kentucky Native," the cellist Ben Sollee blends ancient mountain melodies with stirring lyrics rooted in the state he calls home. Sollee brings other influences to bear — a syncopated African rhythm on the opener, "Carrie Bell," for example — but the core is all Kentucky.
There's a lovely ballad about a ship called the Eva Kelley that once hauled coal down the Ohio River and now carries mostly other cargo. It touches lyrically on hard times in the coal business, but with a gentle, understated touch.
In "Pieces of You," the album's best song, the only thing identifiably Kentuckian in the lyrics is how Sollee pronounces "hungry" ("hongry"). The song was inspired by a piece of art that blurred the distinction between mementos and trash. But it stands taller on another track of meaning, as a wistful, achy love song about the urge to hang on to the physical remnants of a relationship that has ended.
The song's Kentucky roots, though absent lyrically, shine through in the melody — sweetly enough that those who love the state might imagine they're seeing mist on the shoulders of distant mountains.