Although he's far more than simply an artist that retraces vintage trappings, Ben Sollee maintains a firm devotion to his musical heritage, a potpourri of bluegrass, folk, country and the seminal sounds of Appalachia and beyond. On the self-titled "Ben Sollee and Kentucky Native," the traditional tunings are never far from the surface, but it's Sollee's easy manner and infectiously accessible style that proves particularly entertaining and engaging.
While the album could be interpreted as a study in styles, it's far less imposing than that description would suggest. Even the hint of African rhythm underscoring the song "Carrie Bell" and the assured tempo of a track like "Mechanical Advantage" don't detract from the breezy sound of the album overall. Naturally, it's the archival instrumentation, as established by the blend of fiddles, banjos and cello, that prove most enticing overall - proof that it's not always necessary to provide overstated embellishment to move a melody along.
Indeed, Sollee deserves credit for doing more with less, as proven by the whimsical sound of "Eva Kelley," the jaunty pacing of "Two Tone Gal" and the lovelier leanings of "Pieces of You." Even an unassuming instrumental like "The Hold Out/Speed Breaker" manages to maintain the caress and charm purveyed by the album in its entirety. Whether through nuance or novelty, the melodies manage to maintain their hold and encourage further hearings. It makes for a set-up that's simple yet suggestive, sparsely arranged, but energized all the same. At a time when glitz, glamour, flash and spectacle seem to hold sway, Sollee and company manage to get by on skill and savvy alone. It's an admirable accomplishment, reason enough to suggest "Ben Sollee and Kentucky Native" is the work of true homegrown heroes, the kind that real fans of authentic Americana can reason to admire.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles.