I discovered Ben Sollee’s, “A Few Honest Words,” almost four years ago, and it has since become the soothing travel companion on many train rides from Boston to Philadelphia. However, seeing Sollee in concert last night at the Brighton Music Hall put the song in a completely different context. During this exciting election season, Sollee’s acoustic intro of, “if you’re going to lead my country/if you’re gonna say it’s free/I’m gonna need a little honesty,” conjures more than feelings of sleepy relaxation. After Sollee hinted at environmental efforts in his Kentucky Appalachia hometown and unique, community-building “bike tours,” this poignant song beautifully closed the show. His earnest call to action didn’t force the audience to sway left or right in a political way, but in a physical one.
Not only did Sollee poetically encourage the audience to participate in the election through the encore number, his new release Half-Made Man is another fan-based effort. Sollee’s fourth album was released through Tin Ear Records and Pledge Music, a socially-conscious and interactive new way for artists to produce and release albums (Like I said in my PigPen post…post on that coming soon).
After his environmentally-minded album collaboration with David Martin Moore Dear Companion in 2010 (and subsequent Ditch the Bike tour, which he recreated this year for the Newport Folk Festival, biking over 3,600 miles along the East Coast to further connect with each city), Sollee’s new release takes community involvement to a whole new level. He strays a bit from his original folky sound by adding more guitar and drums, but his iconic cello still rings above the fuller sound. Clearly I’m much more of a stripped-down, acoustic Ben Sollee fan, but these new songs fall short to his old stuff in my opinion. New songs like “Whole Lot to Give” and “DIY” sound much better and purposeful in person. Hey, maybe Sollee secretly agrees, for he still played many of his older, sweeter classics like “Prettiest Tree on the Mountain” and “Built for This.” With these, the tiny bar went silent and to let Sollee’s pure vocals linger even longer.
As if I haven’t fawned over Sollee enough already, here are two more selling points:
1. His live rendition of “How to See the Sun Rise” is the most PERFECT marriage of soul and folk. (video following this post)
2. He is touring with one of his role models, Darol Anger, of the Turtle Island String Quartet. Sollee was inspired by Turtle Island to take up the cello, and they riff together like two old friends on stage.
The combination of Ben Sollee’s warm music and positive message made this a feel-good concert in every way.