“I used to be ashamed of my accent,” Ben Sollee told a nearly-full house at the Brown Friday night, the sort-of homecoming for the ensemble he and Daniel Martin Moore assembled for their tour supporting Dear Companion. The album, produced by Yim Yames, is a love letter to Appalachia and beacon to the dangers of mountaintop removal.
Everyone who took the stage was from Kentucky, and though they each hail from different corners of the state, they share a love for folk. The night wasn’t just about the music either — authors Jason Howard and Silas House read briefly from pieces of Appalachian literature. The evening was a celebration of a whole culture, not just another tour stop.
Moore and Sollee’s partnership was a long time in the making, and once you hear them together, you’ll wonder why it didn’t happen sooner. Switching between banjo and guitar, Moore compliments Sollee’s raucous cello subtly, so it’s hard to imagine one without the other. Both men have raw, passionate voices woven together with silk strings of soul.
Their band coasted through most of the duo’s new album, Dear Companion. Their performance of the title track was one of the more rousting moments of the evening, and the way their voices wrap around the melody of “My Wealth Comes to Me” left a haunting thumbprint. When Moore was left on stage alone with his acoustic guitar for his heartbreaking ode to mountaintop removal, “Flyrock Blues,” he and Sollee’s determination to preserve Appalachia came into full relief.
Moore and Sollee chose their band well: Drummer and “Stomp” album Dan Dorff even used his own bodyto keep the band in time, and Cheyenne Mize fills out the band’s overall melodies with vocal harmonies, soulful violin or gently plucked guitar.
By the time they closed with an a cappella singalong of the old railroad ballad “Swing and Turn Jubilee,” which included opening act Maiden Radio, Howard and House, we had been so immersed in the culture of Kentucky, its hard to imagine how it so often goes by unnoticed in our day-to-day lives.
Maiden Radio — Mize, Julia Purcell and Joan Musselman — set the mood with their special blend of old fashioned Appalachian Folk music, mixing originals with covers of “Coal Miner’s Blues” and “Blackest Crow.”