Mattea is an extremely versatile artist who packs a very large
emotional punch with her music. Her latest album, Coal,
is an incredible musical journey that takes you deep into the
heart of the Appalachian Mountain region. This album has quickly
climbed to the top of my list for favorite mountain music album.
It is also very high on my list of favorite albums of all time.
It digs down to the bare bones of the music and lays it all out
in the open for the listener to become a part of the whole
musical story. The acoustically themed project honors the coal
miners of our country, calling attention to how dangerous their
job can be. Long hours, disease and death are often the payment
for the job they do and it is something handed down from father
to son through the generations in the mining regions of the
Mattea chose to do this album as a tribute to
her place and her people. She grew up near Charleston, West
Virginia with a family heritage in mining. After first hearing
"Dark as a Dungeon" at 19, Mattea quietly dreamed about doing
this kind of an album and as she continued along her musical
career path the mining and mountain songs were quietly cataloged
and filed away for the right time. The Sago Mine Disaster
brought back memories of another mine disaster in 1968 where 78
miners were killed. 'Coal' became the outlet to channel her
emotions. The songs she chose to record make up a musical photo
album of what the coal mining community is all about.
One of the very first things I noticed as I
started listening to the album is the sound of the upright bass
keeping the rhythm. It reminded me of how overproduced and
electronic music has become. The pure sound of the instruments
was really refreshing. The first song is "The L & N Don't Stop
Here Anymore" and has an upbeat tempo. It tells the story of
someone who has escaped the mines by getting an education, which
was pretty much the only escape available except for death. They
are reminiscing about things from their childhood and how they
used to think their father's skin was black as the coal. Years
later, after the mine had closed they were surprised to find
that the skin was actually white as snow. The song really sets a
great stage for what is to come.
Patty Loveless joins Mattea on background
harmonies for "Blue Diamond Mines." This song tells the story of
miners that lose their jobs because a mine closes. Most have
been there all their lives and they know no other way of life.
What is to become of them? The message comes through that they
are survivors and if you give them anything at all to earn a
living, they will make it work.
Tim O'Brien and his sister Molly O'Brien
provide guest vocals on "Green Rolling Hills." This is another
song that strongly emphasizes the sounds of the upright bass.
Mattea sings with such a passion that you find yourself standing
on the hills of West Virginia she sings about. While times may
be hard and she needs to go elsewhere to make a living, the
green rolling hills are the closest thing to heaven that she
knows and she'll always come back.
"Coal Tattoo" is a favorite song of mine on
the album and has a driving energy to it. "Dark as a Dungeon" is
a classic and fits well in this project. Another classic
mountain song that you will find is "You'll Never Leave Harlan
Alive." That one always gets to me when I hear it. But the
biggest boom on the album is the very last song. I'm sure they
chose it to close things down because there is simply nothing
that could follow this amazing rendition of "Black Lung/Coal."
Mattea sings the powerful lyrics a capella, choosing to let her
voice carry all the emotions and irony that the song entails.
Not only is the story of a miner who is fighting the disease and
what it does to his family incredibly moving, her voice has a
power and range that is astounding.
If you can listen to this album and not be
moved in some way, I just don't know what to say. It is truly a
musical masterpiece and one I highly recommend. It is produced
by Marty Stuart and released on the Captain Potato Record Label.
Order your copy right here!