Human existence is complicated. So as to eke out a dwelling and a meager hand-to-mouth existence, quite a bit of folks have been compelled to courageous some somewhat inhumane, grisly situations on this planet. And human historical past is marred by the horror tales of individuals who have suffered the brunt of the mining industries. Amongst the many tragedies which have ravaged the coal mining neighborhood, it was the 2010 explosion at the Higher Massive Department coal mine in West Virginia that grew to become the foundation of the play ‘Coal Nation’ by documentary playwrights Jessica Clean and Eric Jensen. Labeled as one of the worst mining disasters in American historical past, it claimed the lives of 29 males, and investigations revealed a whole bunch of security violations that had been brushed below the rug. The mine house owners finally agreed to pay out $200 million in legal liabilities, and the mine was shut down.
Having beforehand labored with the celebrated country-rock outlaw Steve Earle in 2000, Clean and Jensen felt Earle’s gruff-yet-tender musical sensibilities could be an excellent match for ‘Coal Nation’, their soul-stirring narrative of the 29 miners and the quite a few different lives affected by the Higher Massive Department explosion. Most of the music that Earle created for the theater mission finally ended up on ‘Ghosts Of West Virginia’, the newest evocative idea album by Americana stalwarts Steve Earle and the Dukes, which releases on Might 22.
Wanting again, Steve says, “I got here to New York to make music for theater, and it’s taken a very long time. Theater is a robust factor. It’s my favourite artwork kind.” Whereas the play was being proven, Steve could be current on stage, guitar in hand, his evocative music being as a lot of the story as the playwrights’ phrases. This ardour for theater and a protracted historical past of true-blooded American songwriting has resulted in a single of Earle’s finest works in his lengthy and illustrious profession, proper up there with ‘The Arduous Method, ‘The Revolution Begins Now’, ‘Transcendental Blues’ and ‘Copperhead Street’.
‘Ghosts Of West Virginia’ begins with the dirge-like non secular ‘Heaven Ain’t Going Wherever’. The observe is a celebration of the energy and stoicism of the common coal miner, and paints an image of the struggles and easy aspirations of those that have spent their lives working in the coal mines. The truth that it is acapella solely provides to the very human-centric essence of the piece. “Work all day so I sleep alright / Elevate a bit hell on a Saturday evening / I reckon Heaven ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
The following observe is normal nation fare and positively a single for the airwaves. ‘Union, God And Nation’ is an ode to the three issues that conventional miners would cherish and maintain pricey to their hearts. Singing of those who lived the mining life with a way of reverence, Earle paints an idyllic slice of rural American livelihoods. “Union, God and nation was all they ever knew / West Virginia gold and blue.”
‘Satan Put The Coal In The Floor’ is a music about ”hillbilly mindfulness”, as Earle places it. A rollicking, driving, nation romp, this music is a proud tackle life in the coal mines. The defiant lyrics are additionally reminiscent of previous gospel tunes – “The Satan put the coal in the floor / Mentioned I double-dog dare ya to observe me down.” As Earle explains, “The man in that music is a miner and he’s being actual about what he’s doing.”
Earle then sneaks in a pleasant groovy tune with ‘John Henry Was A Metal Drivin Man’. A rustic folklore ballad based mostly on the real-life John Henry, it tells a narrative of a time when conventional miners had been usually romanticized and revered, a lot earlier than the introduction of trendy mechanical mining. Whereas it does take the occasional step into the bleak and hyper-real, this observe is certainly a feel-good finger snapper.
‘Time Is By no means On Our Aspect’ was impressed by the four-day-long wait that the households of the 29 miners needed to endure, based mostly on the false hope that footprints found deep in the mines reportedly belonged to the pricey departed souls they misplaced in the explosion in 2010. “And good issues come to those that wait… Whoever instructed you that one lied,” sings Earle with a chuckle that will as properly be a heavy sigh. Steve Earle and the Dukes give this haunting music a moving hymn-like temper, a tribute to their stellar musical capabilities.
With the rousing ‘It’s About Blood’, Earle pulls no punches. The emotional music contains a shout-out to all 29 miners that perished that fateful day, as Earle superbly laments the unstated distress that such tragedies carry. It additionally boldly speaks of the sacrifices made by the households of these heroic coal miners. “It’s about fathers / It’s about sons / It’s about lovers / Wakin’ up in the center of the evening alone / It’s about muscle / It’s about bone / It’s a few river working thicker than water ‘trigger / It’s about blood.”
The Dukes’ violinist and mandolin participant, Eleanor Whitman, takes on vocal duties for the subsequent craving observe, ‘If I May See Your Face Once more’. In long-standing nation music custom, this music has Eleanor sing about the tribulations of a lady who has misplaced a lot as a result of her life was intertwined with that of her miner husband. As the title implies, she longs for somebody she has misplaced to return, a sentiment that many like herself would share in such communities. It additionally options some brilliantly crafted lyrics like – “If I may contact you yet one more time / Simply to carry your hand in mine / I’d by no means let it go once more, I promise / And possibly we’d discover a city / The place desires aren’t buried underground / And never so many ghosts round to hang-out us.”
‘Black Lung’, their subsequent sprightly observe, sounds and feels proper at house with Les Claypool’s bluegrass work on ‘South Park’. Each catchy and wry, whereas containing vivid lyrics like “Each breath I take, like a 12 spherical battle,” the music paints a first-person narrative of the hundreds of lives affected by coal employees’ pneumoconiosis, an affliction that severely debilitates the lungs. Regardless of its bleak material, the music remains to be infectious, if you happen to’ll pardon the pun.
With their subsequent music, ‘Quickest Man Alive’, Steve Earle and the Dukes pay their respects to the legendary pilot and West Virginia native, Chuck Yeager, who was famously identified for breaking the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 plane. On this blues-rock tinged affair, Earle virtually emulates a country-bred Bob Dylan by means of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. One other folklore-styled piece, Earle and the Dukes current a paean to Yeager’s noble exploits in the sky, miles above the deep, darkish cavernous mines that fill the relaxation of the album’s narrative.
We shut with what seems like Earle’s most private music on this album. Titled ‘The Mine’, it is a conventional Americana yarn that manages to interrupt your coronary heart with its candy simplicity. It is a few man who’s futilely reassuring the girl that he loves that their lives are about to vary, as a result of his brother is about to get him a job at the mine… and everyone knows how that ill-fated story ends, do not we? Together with ‘If I May See Your Face Once more’, this music about doomed lovers paints a vivid image whereas violently-yet-gently pulling in your heartstrings and tear ducts.
With most of the tracks on ‘Ghosts Of West Virginia’ being private, lyrical accounts and vivid tales of the coal mining neighborhood, this idea album is finest skilled whereas heard in its entirety. “If I’d by no means been down in a coal mine, I’da lived quite a bit longer. Hell, that ain’t an in depth name. However then once more, I’da by no means had something. And half a life is best than nothin’ in any respect.” These traces from the music ‘Black Lung’ completely sums up all the things Steve Earle feels he must say on this album. It is an emotional, empathetic album about loss, heartbreak, pleasure, sincere labor, religion, sacrifices, conviction, and humanity in the face of tragedy. With this stunning assortment of songs, Steve Earle and the Dukes reinstate themselves as some of the finest Southern rock storytellers of our trendy period.