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Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore

Dear Companion – 2010 (Sub Pop)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore

Daniel Martin Moore became a sensation on the folk scene when he scored a Sup Pop contract with his unsolicited demo and followed up with his astonishing debut, 2008's "Stray Age," earning deserved comparisons to everyone from Nick Drake to Mojave 3 mainman Neil Halstead. Ben Sollee came to the folk community by a different route; classically trained, he joined Abigail Washburn's Sparrow Quartet before launching a solo career with his genre-twisting solo debut, 2008's "Learning to Bend," a fascinating hybrid of bluegrass, soul, jazz and folk.

After several shows together, the fellow Kentuckians found they shared a great deal, particularly a love for their home state, a strong connection to their Appalachaian roots and a desire to rescue its culture from corporate greed.

The tangible result of the duo's initial discussions is this collaboration, an album combining Solle and Moore's musical and cultural commonalities into a singularly wonderful project. At the same time, there is a sense of duality. It is an effective combination of the pair's differing yet very connected styles, and its set list is populated with songs that are typical of Appalachian tradition while telling a very specific story, detailing the terrible human consequences of a mining procedure known as mountaintop removal, or MTR, which involves exploding everything above a coal seam, eliminating traditional tunnel mining jobs and causing surface and groundwater pollution.

On Flyrock Blues, Moore deal with the topic directly - flyrock being the destructive detritus that emerges from a mountain being dynamited - in a song where he lives up to his Nick Drake comparison, while Sollee's Only a Song takes a slightly more tangential approach to the erosion of the Appalachian way of life. The beauty of "Dear Companion" lies in an effective blending of genres and instrumentation, with Sollee's sonorous cello and classically baroque perspective lending a perfect weight to his and Moore's folk/bluegrass lilt.

Just as importantly, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James produces with a masterful sense of how the duo should intersect sonically and get their message across lyrically. On "Dear Companion," Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore have crafted a beautifully heartfelt soundtrack to an ugly reality in a vitally important cultural area in our country and in doing so, have imparted a valuable cautionary lesson: If it can happen in our home, it can happen in yours.