Kathy Mattea Turns A Corner With Coal

This appeared on GAVTV.com - March 31, 2008

Kathy Mattea has a new album coming out tomorrow, and though it won't be launching any songs onto the radio, it's an extremely thoughtful CD that helped her get more in touch with her working-class roots.

Titled Coal, the album mixes songs that deal with various aspects of a miner's life, including the work itself, labor relations, health issues and the family ties that lead a man to spend a day in cramped quarters underground. Kathy was inspired to record the concept album following the Sago Mine Disaster of 2006, but in the process, she spent months learning to approach the music properly.

"So many of these songs are so simple," she told The Orange County Register. "A lot of these songs, the verses and the choruses, have the same melody. That's not very commercial. You wouldn't find a publisher that says, 'Hey, that's great.' But this is the way folk songs are written when people are telling their stories, and so there is some old voice in me that screams, 'That's not enough. You need more bells and whistles.'"

With the help of producer Marty Stuart, Kathy resisted the temptation to clutter the songs up, and the result is a fairly emotional portrait of the mining communities to which she's tied: Both of her grandfathers were miners, and her mom worked for the miners' union.

Ultimately, the process of making the album taught her some new singing techniques and reinvigorated her creative spirit.

"If you can keep growin' in your art, what else is there?" she said. "To not be going through the motions, but to really be digging deep — no pun intended — to be technically, lyrically, point of view-wise, to be tacklin' a new genre of music, it's just exciting. I thought it'd just be that little coal record I would make for six months, but it's been life-changing."

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