Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore are two of the quieter talents kicking around Sub Pop these days. They dont fit in with the trendy dream pop that we get with every other record from that label, but instead, they choose to put out their own brand of country-folk and new-grass. While Sollees been around the music block for quite some time working with bluegrass and country musics elite, Moore is a fresher face, having a couple solo records to his credit thus far, making this collaboration number three for him. Theres a third element here as well, though, with Jim James behind the wheel on this record. Not surprisingly, he has great chemistry with the music on this album, and as a result, may have a few more people than usually perking their ears to Sollee and Moore.
Music aside, theres a real purpose behind this project. All three share the Kentucky mountains for a home, and this record was written in protest of mountain top chopping thanks to those greedy and short-sighted coal companies.Its something that not many people outside the Appalachian states have heard of, but with Dear Companion, the two artist hope to get out some awareness and raise money for the cause, with part of the proceeds go to Appalachian Voices.
This isnt Sollees first foray in to the world of topical music. Really, he prefers it when flying solo with his 2008 debut, singing the praises of peace, love, and happiness. Hes an incredibly intelligent person who knows how to craft a song with a message, and as you hear on Dear Companion, he gets to further hone in on that craft. But as just one third of the equation, Moores talent for songwriting cant be left out. Moore covers the folksier end of the spectrum, and with Jamess touch, the tracks are taken to a newer level than what was on his own debut. When all three combine you get the perfect blend of folk, new-grass, and alt-country. Somewhere Arlo Guthrie is listening and smiling.
Ringing and country harmonies suck us in from the get-go on Something, Somewhere, Sometime.Here the duo apologizes to the mountains, but if you hadnt an idea what this record was about, you might not get it right away. These songs are written more like brokenhearted love songs than fist-in-the-air political rants. Thats the feeling of the record: lost, broken, but caring and wise. My Wealth Comes to Me leans more toward the 60’s utopianism of protest songs, but the poetry that surrounds it takes much of the weight off, making something more relatable.
While Sollees smooth-as-always vocals take up much of the record, Moores simpler, more direct style comes through for some of the albums best tracks, like Neednt Say a Thing. The dark and swampy Dear Companion pulls out all the bluegrass stops with down-tempo banjos and rattling percussion building on the cello and fiddle. His vocals are stepped up a notch too, showing more of his underrated range. Hes quick to stay in his musical comfort zone, however, with his preverbal middle finger to big coal on Flyrock Blues.Moore can pluck and strum a folk song like the best of them, and this record really shows it off.
While theres a serious tone, a sense of humor cant help but come out with the harsh truths of This is Only a Song. They sing it right out, in between talking about too many cars and the apathetic youth: This is only a song, it cant change the world. Lyrics aside, the songwriting is classic. If I hadnt told you what the record was about, would you have guessed it based on a blind listen? Probably not, and thats what makes these songwriters so good; they can take an issue and make it personally identifiable. Theyre protest songs for the romantic, and love songs for those that love the mountains. Who knew they would end up making their best music while trying to save some mountains?