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Saving Appalachia from mining one song at a time

By Brian Baker, February 2010

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It was a natural fit; MTR is an issue close to James' heart as well. But perhaps James' most important contribution was in convincing Sollee and Moore that they should expand their concept and take it to its most logical conclusion. "We had six songs done, and we were having a cup of tea on the last night, and Jim looked over and said, ‘So do you guys want this to come out and really connect with people and really matter to them and have it be something they cherish over time or do you want them to just forget about it?' " says Moore with a laugh. "And we were like, ‘Uh...A). First choice, right?' And he said, ‘Then we need to make this a full-length album. Nobody remembers EPs. What's your favorite EP?' We each had a few other tunes and we wrote ‘Dear Companion' after the first session and ‘Needn't Say a Thing' came later, after the first half of the record. Poof, it turned into an album."

Beyond the worthwhile focus of the album, "Dear Companion" is a gorgeous album of folk-touched mountain music that is as powerful and haunting as it is enlightening. From the propulsive title track and Something, Somewhere, Sometime to the gently scathing My Wealth Comes to Me to the folksy lope of Only a Song, Sollee's sonorous cello and Martin's fluid guitar combine with a talented supporting musical cast and James' expertise behind the glass to craft the rarest of projects; an album that delivers a critically important message in a most beautiful package.

Part of the proceeds will benefit Appalachian Voices, an advocacy group working to stop MTR. Moore is confident that, with the right exposure, the proper end will be achieved. "Once people get the whole scope - and especially if they've visited an MTR site; five or six square miles of devastation - awareness will ultimately turn the tide," says Moore. "Appalachian Voices runs a web site called ilovemountains.org, and that's the most succinct resource for raising awareness about MTR. We've partnered with them, and they're helping us with logistics and making sure we're not flying off the handle and saying something silly."

There is a wonderfully compelling line in the brief liner notes that accompany "Dear Companion": "We all live downstream." It is an eloquent reference to the delicate web of life that connects us all. With "Dear Companion," Daniel Martin Moore and Ben Sollee remind us of the tremulous value of that web in Appalachia and the crucial importance of saving it for future generations.

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