Kathy Mattea- Coal   1 comment

Kathy Mattea


Thirty Tigers


As Patty Loveless did with the Mountain Soul album, Coal finds Kathy Mattea returning to her rural roots. Years removed from Nashville’s charts, Mattea reflects on the influence coal mines and coalminers have had on her family and her West Virginia neighbours.


Produced by Marty Stuart, himself in the midst of career resurgence away from the spotlight, Coal is successful on many levels, not the least of which is as a vehicle for Mattea’s considerable pipes. She has always been able to sing with control, but seems to have become more comfortable with her voice the further she has moved from the constraints of popular country success. Her pitch is remarkable; never does she over-extend herself.


Few will argue with the song selection, but I will. That Mattea has chosen songs from real mountain folks- Jean Ritchie, Hazel Dickens, Billy Edd Wheeler, and others- is appropriate, and the songs are worthy of being heard again and again. But few of these songs are recent, with most having been written thirty years and more ago. The notable exception is Darrell Scott’s “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” not coincidently recorded by Loveless on the previously mentioned album. As a result, the album feels a little safe, and it would have been nice for the production team to look wider for less well-known coal-related songs.


Still, Mattea’s performance is stellar, and the instrumentation- just on the relaxed side of bluegrass- from a group of acoustic whizzes can’t be touched. Their notes frame not only the words sung, but extend the images immortalized.


With the songs familiar, it is left to Mattea to make these renditions memorable, and she does that; while no one sings like Ritchie or Dickens, Mattea pays tribute not only to miners, but to the song crafters who told their stories.


Kathy Mattea has made a lot of albums, and I’ve heard most of them. Never have I enjoyed one more than Coal.


One response to “Kathy Mattea- Coal

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  1. I have enjoyed your review. I just wrote about this album as well but not in as much detail. I’ve bookmarked your site and will be back from time to time.


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