Oct 10, 2017
On the cover of Ben Sollee’s new album Kentucky Native, an astronaut with a pick axe on his shoulder looks at Earth from the surface of the moon, contemplating loneliness and the fragility of life. He’s the subject of the song “Moon Miner” on the artist’s thirteenth recording, one that does some mining of its own - of the Kentucky bluegrass tradition and of his state’s complicated economic and environmental evolution.
In more than a decade of a multi-faceted career, Sollee has never settled into a predictable pattern of recording and performing. His ensembles shift. He takes on conceptual projects between studio sessions, such as scoring a ballet or touring entirely by recumbent bicycle.
His profile rose as a member of the globe-touring Sparrow Quartet with Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn and Casey Driessen. At Fleck's suggestion, Sollee developed a prolific solo voice. Yet he nearly always performs with his high school jazz band friend Jordin Ellis, one of the best drummers around.
His classical training and his folk muse are in constant dialogue, so his music is always surprising. One thing he’s never done before now is dive explicitly into the bluegrass tradition that was at least nominally born in his home state of Kentucky. Unsurprisingly, his interpretation sounds like nothing else that’s come before it.