Indianapolis, IN. – Never one to shy away from a tough subject, singer-songwriter Steve Earle has once again delivered an outstanding piece of work in his new album, Ghosts of West Virginia, a song cycle revolving around the tragedy of the Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion that happened April 5th, 2010 in Raleigh County, West Virginia.
Earle was approached by playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen to compose some songs to accompany a live stage production that would tell the story in a first person narrative based upon interviews with survivors and family members. This project resulted in the play Coal Country along with this new LP, slated for release nationwide on May 22nd, featuring Earle’s lyrical and musical interpretation of the events as he was told.
With beautifully understated accompaniment by his long time backing band The Dukes –Chris Masterson (Guitar, Vocal), Eleanor Whitmore (Fiddle, Vocal, String Arrangements), Ricky Ray Jackson (Pedal Steel, Dobro, Vocal), Jeff Hill (Acoustic and Electric Bass, Vocal), and Brad Pemberton (Drums, Percussion, Vocal) – Earle has captured the simplicity of Appalachian folk music and the story telling traditions of the Deep South to honor and memorialize the 29 miners that lost their lives that day and speak to how the mines define life in that community, for better and worse.
The show opened at the Public Theatre in NYC on March 3rd, 2020 with rave reviews and was anticipated to run through April with a touring version to follow across the U.S. Then, the pandemic hit and the lights went dark on the show March 13th, 2020. Earle was set to do a promo for the new album in coalition with Record Store Day, but that was not able to happen since the U.S. was on lockdown due to COVID-19. It was decided to turn the original promo into a virtual performance, accessible with pre-order of the new LP. Earle gave his fans a truly intimate appearance and adapted to the times at hand. I have to admit, it was pretty slick. The show streamed live from Grimey’s in Nashville, TN and I had pre-ordered my LP online to help support a local record store, Indy CD & Vinyl.
Starting the show off with a haunting a cappella rendition of the first tune from the album, “Heaven Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, Earle proceeded to take the viewer on a journey through Coal Country and the Ghosts of West Virginia. Stopping in-between songs to give the viewer a back story or two of how the project came to be, the people he met and their stories that he developed into songs; Steve digs deep into the lives and loss of one of the most deadly mining disasters in the U.S., performing all but one song off the new album (and joking about why he didn’t perform “Fastest Man Alive“, a song about Chuck Yeager – because it has a lot of words and he gets dizzy reading them off a sheet of paper really fast!). It’s promising to note that Steve stated he is determined to get this music out to the masses and will not record any new music till he and The Dukes can tour behind this album.
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Ghosts of West Virginia is definitely an album to check out! You can purchase from your favorite record store starting May 22nd nationwide via New West Records or stream via your favorite on-line service. Earle stated he hopes to be out next May with The Dukes and until then, stay safe!
Check out the audio for “It’s About Blood”, paying tribute to the 29 lives lost in one of the deadliest coal mining accidents in U.S. history: