Editors' pick

Ben Sollee

Folk/Bluegrass
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Editorial Review

BEN SOLLEE
Album review: "Inclusions"

It makes a difference when a singer-songwriter’s main instrument is the cello rather than the acoustic guitar. Ben Sollee proves as much on his new album, “Inclusions,” for the classically trained cellist constructs longer lines and lusher harmonies than the usual guitar strummer, even if his elliptical lyrics and wry vocals echo Paul Simon.

Sollee, best known for working with Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn in the Sparrow Quartet, wields his cello bow to underline the darker currents beneath the surface of his seemingly insouciant songs.

On “Electrified,” for example, Sollee’s light, boyish tenor seems to be joking about the way everything today — trees, ears, jungles, hearts — is hooked up to electric gadgets, but the jittery-then-droning cello suggests that this is nothing to laugh about.

On “The Globe,” Sollee suggests that the arsonist who burned down Shakespeare’s theater was unmoored by the convincing fictions had seen onstage, and the rocking cello riff suggests that the same danger persists today.

Even when Sollee puts down his cello on a song such as the anti-fundamentalist hymn “Bible Belt,” a classical woodwind arrangement infuses the tune with sadness.

— Geoffrey Himes, June 24, 2011