In a world where federal funding for public radio is shrinking, the number of people who support Louisville’s public radio stations (or maybe Ben Sollee) seem to be just the opposite. This past Saturday night hundreds, if not thousands, flocked to Iroquois Amphitheater for the “Rock ‘n‘ Roll Stroll” event that benefited all Louisville public radio.
Kentucky-native Ben Sollee and his band headlined, along with one man band Tennessee-native David Mead were a good enough reason for people to pack in Iroquois Amphitheater on the slightly cool weekend summer night.
Armed with a Gibson 335 guitar, a soft and soothing voice, Mead strummed out his 50‘s style crooner ballad rock to open the night. And although no one song’s performance seemed to trump the other, his melodic tunes were greeted with enough audience ovation to make me second-guess my mundane reaction. I guess when I saw that Gibson I was hoping he was really going to rock it out.
Then came Ben Sollee. And I knew that soon, my craving for wanting to see someone really rock-out their set of strings would be fulfilled with Sollee.
Like some other music writers, I have a slight obsession with needing to classify an artists’ sound down to one or two particular musical genres. With an artist like Sollee, it’s a bit of a difficult task to do. From one song to the next – and sometimes within the same song – you get a multitude of sounds, instruments, tempos and vocal styles. Sollee masterfully blends elements of folk, soul, jazz, bluegrass and even some R&B into orchestra-like rhythmic grooves laden with percussion. His voice was soulful, his cello-strumming compelling, and as his onstage demeanor was calm, cool and collected. He was in his zone and nothing but his music seemed to control his emotions.
Many things during Sollee’s performance drew boisterous audience applause; the start of a song, the end of a song, or lyrical tidbits like “the hills of Kentucky,” which everyone seemed to appreciate.
Now, I admit. I didn’t know every Sollee song by name once it started or ended. As a matter of fact, the only song I actually recognized by name was “Electrified,” the latest off his album Inclusions (see video below). But, it’s not hard to get deeply drawn into his music, even if the song’s name is unknown.
Sollee’s music is unusually abnormal, yet refreshing and modern. You know, the way a mint julep is on a hot Kentucky summer night.
Photos by Jason Ashcraft
** This review also published at Louisville.com