Ben Sollee is a musical monster, and, of course, I mean that in the best of all possible ways. He’s a classically trained cellist, who in recent years teamed up with the eccentric, utterly charming banjo-gal Abigail Washburn. Together they’ve made several Nippertown appearances at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (opening for Doc Watson) and The Egg (opening for Abigail’s band Uncle Earl).
He’s also a member of the Sparrow Quartet – which includes Washburn, fiddler Casey Driessen and a banjo player by the name of Bela Fleck – who have played at The Egg and the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival.
His latest project is a collaboration with fellow Kentuckian singer-songwriter Daniel Martin Moore, who made his debut in 2008 with “Stray Age” on the venerable indie rock label Sub Pop.
Together, Sollee and Moore recorded the album “Dear Companion” – with Jim James of My Morning Jacket handling the production chores – in an effort to raise awareness about the mountaintop removal process of extracting coal that continues to this day in the Appalachian Mountains.
On Tuesday, Sollee and Moore brought their “Dear Companion” tour to The Linda in Albany, and it was a thoroughly gorgeous and exciting evening. No, Jim James wasn’t there, but I doubt anyone missed him. Fiddler-guitarist Cheyenne Marie and percussionist Dan Dorff rounded out the band, and they were stellar.
While there was a subtle environmental theme that ran through several of the evening’s songs, Moore and Sollee are wise enough to know that you’ve got to have the music to back up the message. And they certainly did.
Moore’s solo turn on “Flyrock Blues” was the most blunt ecological statement of the night, while in “Only a Song,” Sollee sang, “I wouldn’t make a sound if I wasn’t so angry,” before acknowledging in the chorus, “This is only a song/It can’t change the world.”
Of course, he’s wrong. Music can change so much, and most likely every person in the theater on Tuesday night walked out feeling better than when they walked in.
Maybe it was Moore’s hushed intensity on songs like “The Old Measure” and “That’ll Be the Plan.” Maybe it was Marie’s sultry vocals on the vintage blues nugget “Romance in the Dark.” Maybe it was Dorff’s show-stealing body-percussion dance during “Bury Me With My Car.” Or maybe it was Sollee’s brilliant touch on the cello – whether he was bowing, plucking, strumming and even fingerpicking.
A magnificent and uplifting show…
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Read my review in The Times Union.
David Singer wrote a review for The Daily Gazette, but we can’t find it anywhere on line.
BEN SOLLEE & DANIEL MARTIN MOORE SET LIST
Something, Somewhere, Sometimes
My Wealth Comes to Me
Needn’t Say a Thing
Only a Song
The Old Measure
Bury Me in My Car
Romance in the Dark (Lil Green)
That’ll Be the Plan
It’s Not Impossible
Jubilee (a cappella)
Chocolate Jesus (Tom Waits)