Coal

Coal

4.3 3
by Kathy Mattea
     
 

Darkness, in and out of the mine, is ever present in the coal miner's life. Unassuming, gripping, and informed by experience, Kathy Mattea's journey back to her West Virginia roots in Coal (produced by Marty Stuart) is a tale told darkly, exploring the hardship, tenacity, and endurance that are the mining family's daily bread. Mattea, who can belt with the best…  See more details below

Overview

Darkness, in and out of the mine, is ever present in the coal miner's life. Unassuming, gripping, and informed by experience, Kathy Mattea's journey back to her West Virginia roots in Coal (produced by Marty Stuart) is a tale told darkly, exploring the hardship, tenacity, and endurance that are the mining family's daily bread. Mattea, who can belt with the best of 'em, approaches these songs with controlled fury and heightened empathy for lives at risk. While the world moves on (Jean Ritchie's rumbling "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore" opens the album on an ominous note, lamenting the demise of a mining community and the all-consuming darkness attached to it), miners accept their dire fate (Darrel Scott's foreboding "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive"), and the beckoning mine persists in myth and in fact as a voracious, subterranean leviathan (the chilling "Black Lung"). Stuart, who knows how to work with great singers in the studio, lets Mattea soar above a spare, haunting soundscape. Byron House's slap bass is the journey's indomitable beating heart, an aural evocation of the coal miners' persistence, and Stuart makes sure to keep its pulse right there. Other instruments -- mandolin, banjo, cello, accordion -- make what amount to cameo appearances, popping up periodically for added atmosphere as Mattea works her way through a merciless, unforgiving landscape. Patti Loveless adds keening mountain harmony to a miner's tale of physical dissolution, "Blue Diamond Mines," and Tim and Molly O'Brien join Mattea on soothing, spiritually redolent choruses of a bittersweet memory of the home state, "Green Rolling Hills." In the end, though, Mattea is utterly alone, singing a cappella, in the desolate denouement, "Black Lung/Coal," before the entire exercise fades to the deepest hue of black. No stranger to deeply personal albums, Kathy Mattea, with Coal, digs deep for something extra and finds it.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Steve Leggett
Although she's moved steadily towards a more roots-oriented style over the years, Kathy Mattea will probably always be remembered for her pop-styled country hits from the 1980s and '90s on Mercury and MCA Records. A lot has changed, though, and she's no longer a major-label darling, and her latest album, Coal, on the independent Captain Potato imprint, is exactly the kind of release she wouldn't have been allowed to do earlier in her career when everything hinged on delivering a radio hit or two or three. Coal is a heartfelt examination of the hard, often dangerous life of coal miners, and includes classic mining songs by the likes of Merle Travis, Hazel Dickens, and Jean Ritchie all arranged in a delicate, muted acoustic style by Mattea and her producer this time out, Marty Stuart. Mattea grew up in West Virginia, and while her father escaped the mines, both her grandfathers were miners, so when the 2006 Sago Mine disaster hit, which left 12 good men dead, she made up her mind to record this sparse, striking album. It won't land her on the new country stations, but it's a beautiful testament to a difficult way of life, and working on an independent label, she's been given the freedom to make an album that has more to do with the heart than the ring of distant cash registers. Highlights include versions of two of Jean Ritchie's finest compositions, the precise and brilliant "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore" and the only slightly less striking "Blue Diamond Mines," a muted and effective take on Billy Edd Wheeler's haunting "Red-Winged Blackbird," and a sturdy rendition of Merle Travis' classic "Dark as a Dungeon," but everything here is of a piece, and Mattea's unadorned vocals and Stuart's supporting arrangements never overstate things, allowing these songs to tell their forceful stories of lives spent reaching for personal dignity and redemption in the face of almost impossible odds. It's bleak, sad, and tragic, yes, but Coal, in the end, is surprisingly reaffirming because of it. Coal won't fill the dancefloors but it will fill the heart with hope and remind that even in the darkest times and places, there's a song worth singing, and those songs, the ones that emerge from the bleakest situations, may well be ones we need the most.

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Product Details

Release Date:
04/01/2008
Label:
Captain Potato
UPC:
0689076532600
catalogNumber:
65326
Rank:
61000

Related Subjects

Tracks

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Kathy Mattea   Primary Artist,Acoustic Guitar,Vocals
Marty Stuart   Acoustic Guitar,Mandolin,Electric Guitar,Background Vocals,Mandocello,Vocal Harmony
Patty Loveless   Background Vocals,Vocal Harmony
John Catchings   Cello
Bill Cooley   Acoustic Guitar
Stuart Duncan   Acoustic Guitar,Banjo,Fiddle,Mandocello
Byron House   Upright Bass
Randy Leago   Piano,Accordion
Fred Newell   Pedal Steel Guitar,Upright Bass
Mollie O'Brien   Background Vocals,Vocal Harmony
Tim O'Brien   Background Vocals,Vocal Harmony
Eric Fritsch   Hammond Organ,Hammond B3

Technical Credits

Marty Stuart   Composer,Producer,Audio Production
Merle Travis   Composer
Hazel Dickens   Composer
Jean Ritchie   Composer
Mick Conley   Engineer,overdub engineer
Alice Gerrard   Composer
Emory Gordy   Engineer
Darrell Scott   Composer
Traditional   Composer
Dan Spomer   Vocal Engineer

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