Support journalism that matters to you

Since COVID-19 impacts us all and we want everyone in our community to have the important information they need, we have decided to make all coronavirus related stories free to read on While we are providing free access to articles, they are not free to produce. The newsroom is working long hours to provide you the news and information you need during this health emergency. Please consider supporting our work by subscribing or donating.

Steve Earle's latest album considers coal miners' perspective

Get the weekly rundown
Sign up to receive THE FUN never stops!, our weekly A&E newsletter

Steve Earle & the Dukes, "Ghosts of West Virginia” (New West)

Contemplating the treacherous political landscape of West Virginia, Steve Earle decided to build a bridge.

The singer-songwriter known for his liberal views undertook a project that would speak for the other side on the issue of coal mining. Earle's empathetic attempt to address the divide has resulted in one of his best albums: “Ghosts of West Virginia.”

The set draws material from the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 men. Earle wrote folk songs for a play about the disaster, and has used them as the foundation of a concept album that considers coal's role in the life of West Virginians from their perspective.

Earle's grunting, gravelly tenor is perfectly cast as he assesses the state's mythology and geology. On the song “It’s About Blood,” a fanfare for the common man, Earle lists the victims of the 2010 tragedy, his voice more anguished with each name recited.

“Black Lung” offers a nuanced, wrenching look at another aspect of the risky profession. “If I Could See Your Face Again” is a lament from a miner’s widow sung beautifully by Eleanor Whitmore, part of the crack quintet that provides Earle with mostly acoustic support in mono, reinforcing the rootsy vibe.

There's poetry in the simple observations of the songs, which are even more topical than Earle intended as his characters weigh the need to make money versus the risk of not being able to breathe. Sound familiar?



Loading comments...
Hide Comments