A classically trained cellist and self-proclaimed "25-year-old white boy from Kentucky," Ben Sollee takes the classical influences of his education and blends them with folk and R&B stylings he derived from both his musical family and years of playing with greats like Otis Taylor, Bela Fleck and Odetta.
"Having that language ... being able to speak in the classical vernacular is definitely an edge, for sure," Sollee said of his versatile musical background.
Sollee's full-length debut album, "Learning To Bend," is a melting pot of genres that accomplishes a sound truly deserving of the oft-overused term "unique."
"I wanted to create lots of small vignettes and let all of the different influences that have happened in my life, you know from classical to the R&B stuff, the straightahead folk stuff ... just come out," Sollee said of the album. "From there, it sort of turned into a lightly politically driven CD that was also mixed in with a bunch of love songs."
The maturity in Sollee's lyrics is unusual for an artist of his age. One of his most ambitious tracks is one that is not entirely his own, however. He added several verses to Sam Cooke's 1964 classic "A Change Is Gonna Come." Though the idea might sound blasphemous to some, the project met rave reviews from both music blogs and larger outlets such as NPR (which named Sollee one of the Top 10 Unknown Artists of 2007).
"I wrote (the lyrics) from the character standpoint of a soldier out in the field," Sollee said of his revisions. "I feel like that's a big part of what we're doing these days, just trying to seek some peace, whether it's in our local community or globally.
"So I changed the words in that way but still tried to keep Sam's optimism of the human spirit in there."
In conversation and music alike, Sollee seems wise beyond his years. He'll bring that wisdom, along with some great music, to the Nightfall stage tonight.
IF YOU GO
What: Nightfall concert with Ben Sollee.
When: Ben Friberg Quartet opens at 7 p.m., Ben Sollee headlines at 8 p.m. today.
Where: Miller Plaza, corner of Cherry and Market Streets and M.L. King Boulevard.
Venue Web site: www.downtownchattanooga.org.
2008: "If You're Gonna Lead My Country" EP
2008: "Learning To Bend"
2008: "Something Worth Keeping" EP
Sollee is working on an as-yet-untitled album with Daniel Martin Moore to be released in the fall and is considering a second solo album that would be released early next year.
"Those are the ones I can turn on at any moment at any part of my life and just love," Ben Sollee on his soul music idols.