Music News & Reviews

CD review: Sollee and Moore exhibit shades of Simon and Garfunkel


Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore

Dear Companion | 

The initial allure of Ben Sollee is that he is a guy who plays cello but also loves the folk music of his home state of Kentucky. Rather than rack his cello in favor of an acoustic guitar, he has forged his own path and one of the more distinctive careers in roots music with his big box of wood.

Our first big taste of his sound, musically and lyrically rooted deep in the Bluegrass, was his 2008 debut, Learning to Bend. Sticking with his non-traditional tradition, Sollee's follow-up is a collaborative album with fellow Kentucky singer-songwriter Daniel Martin Moore, Dear Companion.

The pairing of Sollee and Moore is somewhat reminiscent of early Simon and Garfunkel, when that duo was mining traditional folk songs for material. Although there is nothing quite as gorgeous as Scarborough Fair/ Canticle here, their performance and lyrics are much closer to their source.

Sollee gets around his cello, giving us deep drones in Sweet Marie and fleet plucking in Try. It's an instrument that works beautifully in harmony with Moore's guitar and other traditional instruments, including banjo.

These are familiar sounds to Sollee fans, as are pointed lyrics, in this case mostly speaking out against mountaintop-removal coal mining. But Moore's presence seems to show in the way that the points of Flyrock Blues and Sweet Marie creep up on the listener — not quite as overt as earlier Sollee songs, including If You're Gonna Lead My Country. The standout track is Only a Song, a Sollee composition that caught listeners' ears in its original recording with My Morning Jacket's Jim James, the producer of Dear Companion.

Sollee caught music fans' attention with something a little different, but on Dear Companion, he and Moore show that they'll be sticking around, thanks to a much more time-honored quality: growth.

Rich Copley,