Ben SolleeView in iTunes
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A classically trained cellist, Ben Sollee made his name as a backup musician before launching a songwriting career in 2008. Raised in Lexington, KY, he began playing cello as a fourth-grade student and slowly blossomed into a talented instrumentalist, receiving encouragement from his two music-minded parents along the way. The family household was often filled with vintage soul music -- Wilson Pickett, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, and Otis Redding being the most consistent selections -- and Sollee’s subsequent discovery of folk music helped round out his musical tastes. By the time he relocated to Louisville to pursue his craft professionally, he'd grown into an eclectic musician with demonstrated interests in folk, jazz, R&B, and bluegrass. Although he’d already begun writing his own songs, Sollee received his first big break as a member of the Sparrow Quartet, an acoustic supergroup that also featured vocalist Abigail Washburn, banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck, and violinist Casey Driessen. The group toured the world, visited Tibet at the behest of the U.S. State Department, and released several recordings, all of them adventurous projects that featured a blend of American and Asian folk traditions. Although several of his bandmates were more established than he, Sollee enjoyed a good deal of positive press for his contributions to the group, and NPR’s Morning Edition named him one of the Top Ten Unknown Artists of the Year in 2007. One year later, he released an EP of his own material, If You’re Gonna Lead My Country, and followed it with a full-length album named Learning to Bend. The Sparrow Quartet continued to tour throughout much of 2008 and 2009, but Sollee also found time to play with other artists, including pianist Vienna Teng and fellow Kentucky native Daniel Martin Moore. A folk songwriter himself, Moore began composing a number of new songs with Sollee's help, and the two soon banded together for the creation of Dear Companion. A third Kentucky resident, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, produced the album, which was released by Sub Pop in February 2010. ~ Andrew Leahey