Half Made Man
Humanistic transitions and understanding from Ben Sollee
By Jim Caligiuri, 1:27PM, Wed. Oct. 31, 2012
With a new album and a two-piece band in tow, Kentucky cellist Ben Sollee arrives at the Cactus Cafe on Saturday night, Nov. 3. Half Made Man, his fourth disc, arrives as both a quick follow-up to last year's Inclusions and perhaps his most straightforward work yet.
“I think more than anything it’s good to have a work cycle,” says Sollee from his home in Louisville. “I watched a documentary on Woody Allen, and by no means is this a comparison, but he always wants to keep working. He found that the only way to get better doing what he did was to do it, creating.
“In a lot of ways, I think it’s good for me to just keep creating.”
Taking the advice of hometown friend Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Sollee tried a different way of recording this new batch of songs. Instead of building tracks in the studio, he hired a band and recorded everything live. The results close in on what he’s able to accomplish onstage. The raw aspect of his live performances shines on Half Made Man.
“The goal wasn't to capture the definitive track, but capturing a really compelling performance of the song,” he claims. “To that end, we recorded everything that happened in the studio. We didn’t have a first take policy. We wanted to make music that felt right.
“The engineer, Kevin Ratterman, described it as being in the Star Chamber. It might be a Star Trek reference, some celestial thing, I don’t know. But we understood what he meant.”
Like most singer-songwriters Sollee writes about what’s in front of him. Only 28, he chose his new album's title carefully.
“I’m transitioning from things that I thought I was going to be into the things that I am,” he explains. “I thought it would be interesting to document that – as a musician, as a father, as a human, as an activist, as a husband.
“All those things make a transitional kind of life and the human side of it is that I started off making very explicit social statements in my music. I felt this urgency to change the world.
“I’ve since grown to be a little more humanistic and understand that where things are really happening are on a human to human level.”
Renowned for his environmental awareness, Sollee drew recognition for a couple of tours accomplished by bicycle, including one year’s trip to Bonnaroo. There’s a van involved this time. Tackling the wide open spaces of Texas is difficult with a cello on your back.
Nevertheless, he’s offering a $5 voucher at his merch table to anyone who gets to his gig by bike, on foot, or takes public transportation.