Laments From Coal Country

This appeared in the Los Angeles Times - April 8, 2008

Kathy Mattea Coal (Captain Potato) * * * 1/2

Dignity, not darkness, fuels Kathy Mattea's "Coal," the stark Marty Stuart-produced roots project inspired by the 2006 Sago Mine disaster. A coal miner's granddaughter from Cross Lane, West Virginia, the two-time Country Music Association female vocalist award winner jettisons mainstream dazzle for this minimalist acoustic tribute to the culture in which she was raised.

Embracing songs from Jean Ritchie, Merle Travis, Hazel Dickens and modernists Billy Edd Wheeler and Darrell Scott, Mattea's alto shimmers with earthy grace. Dickens' "Black Lung" -- written for her brother -- is an a cappella wonder: rancor-soaked, honoring the man struck down. It skewers those who view Appalachian lives as disposable.

"Blue Diamond Mines" features aching harmonies from another coal-miner's daughter, Patty Loveless.

Austere yet emotional, Coal is about lives and land lost that cannot be reclaimed.

By Holly Gleason

Return To Articles Return To Home Page