Listening to … Ben Sollee, ‘Steeples, Part One’

Ben Sollee and his cello.

Ben Sollee and his cello.

Minimalism is becoming all the rage these days: downsizing, simplifying your living space; tiny houses; basic cars; bare-bones wardrobes. We can look at the clutter around us and think, there can be too much of a good thing.

Steeples1Steeples, Part One, embraces that ethic. As Ben Sollee‘s first new songs in two years, it could seem disappointing it’s only three songs. But they are such distinctive and exquisite songs that remind us why we have liked Sollee’s unique take on cello and open new voices for him … in just three songs.

Forgotten is vintage Sollee, a earnest quick tempo from the strings underscoring a broad meditation on our quickly changing world. (He included Paul Simon’s Obvious Child on 2013’s influences album The Hollow Sessions, and this tune certainly has a Simon-esque quality.) Pretend borders on blue-eyed soul, an accenting guitar giving easy sway to lyrics that seem to say, “settle on me,” though there’s no apparent settling involved. Sollee lets his voice soar beautifully. With the exception of a cello solo, his instrument takes a supporting role in this highly rhythmic song that shows he does not need the cello front and center to be a compelling performer.

But man, the combination of Sollee’s voice and cello can be compelling. Loving Memory is just haunting, the perspective seeming to come from someone who has either departed this world or the listener’s life. You want to listen repeatedly to wrap your mind around it, and really, that is not a problem.

Steeples, Part One is an exceedingly satisfying listen, but that’s not to say it doesn’t leave us highly anticipating Part Two.

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