COAL

kathy mattea - coal

 I grew up in Coalwood, West Virginia, where every adult male worked for the mine, where every house was owned by the company, and where the entire focus of our being was an 800-foot shaft into the earth. My father, both my grandfathers, and all my uncles were coal miners. I also became one, working in the mine to help pay my way through college. When I heard Kathy Mattea had recorded an album about coal miners, I thought "Well, who better to do it? Who better to sing of these "Essential Americans" who are still climbing on the man-lifts and descending into the darkness to bring forth the black diamonds on which our economy rests?" The answer is, of course, there is nobody better and this album is proof. I am here to tell you it is a full-throated beauty, both a stirring anthem and a poignant hymn to these quiet, unassuming heroes. I am listening to it even now with a tear in my eye and a smile in my heart. Yes, people, make no mistake, coal dust runs in Kathy Mattea's veins!

 

Now, let us consider Kathy's choices for this album. I don't know how she could have done any better. The L&N (Don't Stop Here Anymore) reflects the odd remorse we children of the coalfields feel when we go back home. We know we're lucky to have gotten out, yet we gaze longingly at the rusted remnants of the old tipples and tracks where once our strong, young fathers walked and grinned and hitched us up on their powerful shoulders. But then she brings us back to reality with Blue Diamond Mine which lets us feel the frustration and anguish of a miner crushed not by falling slate but by a failed company and a union powerless to save his job. You will note, however, there is no bitterness in Kathy's interpretation but instead a vibrant strength. A miner will work and she knows that. Just give him the job to do, that's all he asks, and, by his sweet Jesus, he'll do it.

 

Deep mines are often set amongst hills and hollows so miners see the vibrant colors of nature before they descend into the depths where only shades of black await them and all too often the red of their own blood. These are the colors of the gentle Red Winged Blackbird. Irony, you see, is as much a tool of the miner as a shovel. The poignant The Coming of the Roads is a cry to stop the ruin of our land which I know Kathy is passionate about. For most people, mountain-top mining is an abstraction but for those of us who have witnessed the destruction of a beloved mountain covered with sweet pine, towering oaks, and rustling rhododendron, it is devastating.

 

Lawrence Jones and You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive spring from Harlan County, Kentucky where my grandfather on my father's side once mined coal. "Poppy," as I called him, fled the bloody battles of Harlan to work in the more peaceful McDowell County, West Virginia. But sometimes fate is more powerful than geography. Before long, he had both his legs cut off by a run-away mine car. He lived the remaining years of his life in horrible pain, alleviated only by books, paregoric, and music. He would have simply adored Kathy Mattea.

 

During my childhood, I went to sleep to the tromp of miners going to and from the mine, slept through the low, metallic rumble of coal cars trundling through town bound for the great beyond, and woke to the ringing hammer on steel coming from the mine tipple. Coalwood was filled with men and women who were proud to be miners. Coal Tattoo and Dark as A Dungeon reflect this deep pride along with the bitter fate that often awaits those who dig the deep coal. The instrumental Sally of the Garden is an example of the Celtic heritage of many folks in the coalfields, music being the salve of choice for their aches and pains.

 

Although we may travel afar, we who grew up in West Virginia can never really leave that old place where miners yet walk with a trudging grace to and from the mines, and where preachers still preach in snowy white churches built on hillside cuts, and God, who we have no doubt is also a West Virginian, still does His work, too. This Kathy captures perfectly in Green Rolling Hills, her proud salute to our mountain state.

 

All of which brings me to the remarkable Black Lung. Kathy's haunting acappela rendition of this Hazel Dickens classic is simply extraordinary. My father died of black lung and our family was forced to watch that proud man die helplessly gasping for one last good breath of air. For Black Lung, Kathy chose to let her voice alone bring forth the fear, frustration, and pain of this awful disease. In doing so, she reveals her tremendous range and raw talent, as well as her courage for which I can only shake my head in awe.

 

I predict you will be thrilled with the heart and meaning that suffuses every word and note of this album. But make no mistake, buddy. This talent doesn't just happen. It's a gift that comes from living the life of a child of coal.

 

Homer Hickam

 

Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys/October Sky and Red Helmet.

http://www.homerhickam.com

 

 

Below you can listen to Kathy's recent apperance on NPR's Living on Earth.

This is a rare chance to hear the story and some of the music from Kathy's COAL project.

COAL PHOTO GALLERY

LYRICS

THE L & N DON'T STOP HERE ANYMORE

Jean Ritchie

 

WHEN I WAS A CURLY HEADED BABY

MY DADDY SET ME DOWN ON HIS KNEE

HE SAID, "GO TO SCHOOL AND GET YOUR LETTERS,

DON'T YOU BE A DIRTY COAL MINER, LIKE ME."

 

[CHORUS]

I WAS BORN AND RAISED AT THE MOUTH OF THE HAZARD HOLLER

COAL CARS RUMBLED PAST MY DOOR

NOW THEY STAND IN A RUSTY ROW ALL EMPTY

'CAUSE THE L & N DON'T STOP HERE ANYMORE

 

I USED TO THINK MY DADDY WAS A BLACK MAN

WITH SCRIP ENOUGH TO BUY THE COMPANY STORE

NOW HE GOES TO TOWN WITH EMPTY POCKETS

AND HIS FACE IS WHITE AS FEBRUARY SNOW

 

[CHORUS]

I NEVER THOUGHT I'D LEARN TO LOVE THE COAL DUST

NEVER THOUGHT I'D PRAY TO HEAR THAT WHISTLE ROAR

OH, GOD, I WISH THE GRASS WOULD TURN TO MONEY

THOSE GREEN BACKS FILL MY POCKETS UP ONCE MORE

 

[CHORUS]

I WAS BORN AND RAISED AT THE MOUTH OF HAZARD HOLLER

THE COAL CARS ROLLED AND RUMBLED PAST MY DOOR

NOW THEY STAND IN A RUSTY ROW ALL EMPTY

'CAUSE THE L & N DON'T STOP HERE ANYMORE

 

LAST NIGHT I DREAMED I WENT DOWN TO THE COAL YARD

TO DRAW MY PAY LIKE I HAD DONE BEFORE

THEM KUDZU VINES WERE COVERIN' ALL THE WINDOWS

THERE WERE LEAVES AND GRASS GROWIN' RIGHT UP THROUGH THE FLOOR

 

[CHORUS]

I WAS BORN AND RAISED AT THE MOUTH OF HAZARD HOLLER

THE COAL CARS RUMBLED PAST MY DOOR

NOW THEY STAND IN A RUSTY ROW ALL EMPTY

'CAUSE THE L & N DON'T STOP HERE ANYMORE

 

BLUE DIAMOND MINES

Jean Ritchie

 

I REMEMBER THE WAYS IN THE BYGONE DAYS

WHEN WE WERE IN OUR PRIME

HOW US AND JOHN L. GIVE THE OLD MAN HELL

DOWN IN THE BLUE DIAMOND MINE

 

WELL THE WHISTLE BLOWED AND THE ROOSTER CROWED

TWO HOURS BEFORE DAYLIGHT

WHEN A MAN DONE HIS BEST AND HE EARNED HIS GOOD REST

MADE SEVENTEEN DOLLARS AT NIGHT

 

[Chorus]

IN THE MINES IN THE MINES

IN THE BLUE DIAMOND MINES

I WORKED MY LIFE AWAY

IN THE MINES IN THE MINES

IN THE BLUE DIAMOND MINES

OH FALL ON YOUR KNEES AND PRAY.

 

YOU OLD BLACK GOLD YOU'VE TAKEN MY LUNGS

AND YOUR DUST HAS DARKENED MY HOME

AND NOW THAT WE'RE OLD YOU'RE TURNING YOUR BACK

WHERE ELSE CAN AN OLD MINER GO

 

WELL IT'S ALGOMA BLOCK AND BIG LEATHERWOOD

AND NOW ITS BLUE DIAMOND TOO

WELL THE PITS ARE ALL CLOSED AND IT'S GET ANOTHER JOB

WHAT ELSE CAN AN OLD MINER DO?

 

[Chorus]

JOHN L. HAD A DREAM BUT IT'S BROKEN IT SEEMS

MINING HAS HAD IT'S DAY

BUT THEY'RE STRIPPING OFF MY MOUNTAIN TOP

AND THEY PAY ME EIGHT DOLLARS A DAY

 

YOU MIGHT GET A LITTLE POKE OF WELFARE MEAL

A LITTLE POKE OF WELFARE FLOUR

BUT I TELL YOU RIGHT NOW YOU WON'T QUALIFY

'TILL YOU WORK FOR A QUARTER AN HOUR

 

[Chorus]

 

RED WINGED BLACKBIRD

BILLY EDD WHEELER

 

OH CAN'T YOU SEE THAT PRETTY LITTLE BIRD

SINGING WITH ALL HIS HEART AND SOUL

HE'S GOT A BLOOD-RED SPOT ON HIS WING

AND ALL THE REST OF HIM'S BLACK AS COAL

 

OF ALL THE COLORS I EVER DID SEE

RED AND BLACK ARE THE ONES I DREAD

FOR WHEN A MAN SPILLS BLOOD ON THE COAL

THEY CARRY HIM DOWN FROM THE COAL MINES DEAD

 

OH FLY AWAY YOU RED-WINGED BIRD

LEAVE BEHIND THE MINER'S WIFE

SHE'LL DREAM ABOUT YOU WHEN YOU'RE GONE

SHE'LL DREAM ABOUT YOU ALL HER LIFE

 

OH CAN'T YOU SEE THAT PRETTY LITTLE BIRD

SINGING WITH ALL HIS HEART AND SOUL

HE'S GOT A BLOOD-RED SPOT ON HIS WING

AND ALL THE REST OF HIM'S BLACK AS COAL

 

LAWRENCE JONES

SI KAHN

 

WELL THE NIGHT IS THICK AS SILENCE

YOU CAN'T CUT IT WITH A KNIFE

A MAN LIES IN THE HOSPITAL

DRAININ' OUT HIS LIFE

 

THE TRUCKS ARE ON THE BACK ROAD

IN THE DARK THEIR HEADLIGHTS SHINE

'CAUSE THERE'S ONE MAN DEAD

ON THAT HARLAN COUNTY LINE

 

OH ANGER, LIKE POISON

IS EATIN' AT YOUR SOUL

YOUR THOUGHTS ARE LOUD AS GUNFIRE

YOUR FACE IS HARD AS COAL

 

BITTERNESS LIKE BUCKSHOT

EXPLODES INSIDE YOUR MIND

AND THERE'S ONE MAN DEAD

ON THAT HARLAN COUNTY LINE

 

OH A MINER'S LIFE IS FRAGILE

IT CAN SHATTER JUST LIKE ICE

BUT THOSE WHO BEAR THE STRUGGLE

HAVE ALWAYS PAID THE PRICE

 

THERE'S BLOOD UPON THE CONTRACT

LIKE VINEGAR IN WINE

AND THERE'S ONE MAN DEAD

ON THAT HARLAN COUNTY LINE

 

FROM THE RIVER BRIDGE AT HIGHSPLINT

TO THE BROOKSIDE RAILROAD TRACK

YOU CAN FEEL A LONG STRENGTH BUILDING

THAT CAN NEVER BE TURNED BACK

 

THE DEAD GO FORWARD WITH US

NOT ONE IS LEFT BEHIND

'CAUSE THERE'S ONE MAN DEAD

ON THAT HARLAN COUNTY LINE

 

WELL THE NIGHT IS COLD AS IRON

YOU CAN FEEL IT IN YOUR BONES

IT SETTLES LIKE A SHROUD UPON

THE GRAVE OF LAWRENCE JONES

 

THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT IS WALKIN'

FROM THE BATHHOUSE INTO THE MINE

AND THERE'S ONE MAN DEAD

ON THAT HARLAN COUNTY LINE

 

ONE MAN DEAD

ON THAT HARLAN COUNTY LINE

 

ONE MINER DEAD ON THAT HARLAN COUNTY LINE

 

GREEN ROLLING HILLS

Bruce "Utah" Phillips

 

[Chorus]

OH THE GREEN ROLLING HILLS OF WEST VIRGINIA

ARE THE NEAREST THING TO HEAVEN THAT I KNOW

THOUGH THE TIMES ARE SAD AND DREAR

AND I CANNOT LINGER HERE

THEY'LL KEEP ME AND NEVER LET ME GO

 

MY DADDY SAID DON'T EVER BE A MINER

FOR A MINER'S GRAVE IS ALL YOU'LL EVER OWN

THERE'S HARD TIMES EVERYWHERE

I CAN'T FIND A DIME TO SPARE

THESE ARE THE WORST TIMES I'VE EVER KNOWN

 

[Chorus]

SO I'LL MOVE AWAY INTO SOME CROWDED CITY

IN SOME NORTHERN FACTORY TOWN YOU'LL FIND ME THERE

THOUGH I'LL LEAVE THE PAST BEHIND

I'LL NEVER CHANGE MY MIND

THESE TROUBLED TIMES ARE MORE THAN I CAN BEAR

 

[Chorus]

SOMEDAY I'LL GO BACK TO WEST VIRGINIA

TO THOSE GREEN ROLLING HILLS I LOVE SO WELL

OH SOMEDAY I'LL GO HOME

AND I KNOW I'LL RIGHT THE WRONG

THESE HARD TIMES WILL FOLLOW ME NO MORE

 

[Chorus]

THOUGH THE TIMES ARE SAD AND DREAR

AND I CANNOT LINGER HERE

THEY'LL KEEP ME AND NEVER LET ME GO

 

COAL TATTOO

Billy Edd Wheeler

 

TRAVELIN' ON DOWN THAT COAL TOWN ROAD

LISTEN TO MY RUBBER TIRES WHINE

GOODBYE TO BUCKEYE AND WHITE SYCAMORE

I'M LEAVIN' YOU BEHIND

OH I'VE BEEN A COAL MINER ALL MY LIFE

LAYIN' DOWN TRACK IN THE HOLE

GOT A BACK LIKE IRONWOOD, BENT BY THE WIND

BLOOD VEINS AS BLUE AS THE COAL

BLOOD VEINS AS BLUE AS THE COAL

 

WELL, SOMEBODY SAID, "THAT'S A STRANGE TATTOO

YOU HAVE ON THE SIDE OF YOUR HEAD"

I SAID, THAT'S THE BLUE MARK LEFT BY THE COAL

A LITTLE MORE AND I'D A BEEN DEAD

OH, I LOVE THE RUMBLE AND I LOVE THE DARK

LORD I LOVE THE COOL OF THE SLATE

BUT IT'S GOING DOWN THAT NEW ROAD, LOOKIN' FOR A JOB

TRAVELIN' AND LOOKIN' I HATE

TRAVELIN' AND LOOKIN' I HATE

 

SOME DAY WHEN I'M DEAD AND GONE

TO HEAVEN THE LAND OF MY DREAMS

I WON'T HAVE TO WORRY 'BOUT LOSIN' MY JOB

TO BAD TIMES AND BIG MACHINES

OH I GOT NO HOUSE LORD I GOT NO JOB

JUST GOT A WORRIED SOUL

AND A BLUE TATTOO ON THE SIDE OF MY HEAD

LEFT BY THE NUMBER NINE COAL

LEFT BY THE NUMBER NINE COAL

 

SALLY IN THE GARDEN

Traditional Instrumental

 

YOU'LL NEVER LEAVE HARLAN ALIVE

DARREL SCOTT

 

IN THE DEEP DARK HILLS OF EASTERN KENTUCKY

THAT'S THE PLACE WHERE I TRACE MY BLOODLINE

AND IT'S THERE I READ ON A HILLSIDE GRAVESTONE

"YOU'LL NEVER LEAVE HARLAN ALIVE"

 

OH MY GRANDAD'S DAD CROSSED THE CUMBERLAND MOUNTAINS

WHERE HE TOOK A PRETTY GIRL TO BE HIS BRIDE

SAID "WON'T YOU WALK WITH ME OUT THE MOUTH OF THIS HOLLER

OR WE'LL NEVER LEAVE HARLAN ALIVE"

 

[Chorus]

WHERE THE SUN COMES UP ABOUT TEN IN THE MORNIN'

AND THE SUN GOES DOWN ABOUT THREE IN THE DAY

AND YOU'LL FILL YOUR CUP WITH WHATEVER BITTER BREW YOU'RE DRINKIN'

AND YOU SPEND YOUR LIFE JUST THINKIN' OF HOW TO GET AWAY

 

NO ONE EVER KNEW THERE WAS COAL IN THEM MOUNTAINS

TILL A MAN FROM THE NORTHEAST ARRIVED

HE WAS WAVING HUNDRED DOLLAR BILLS

SAID "I'LL PAY YOU FOR YOUR MINERALS"

BUT HE NEVER LEFT HARLAN ALIVE

 

GRANDMA SOLD OUT CHEAP AND THEY MOVED OUT WEST OF PIKEVILLE

TO A FARM WHERE BIG RICHLAND RIVER WINDS

OH I BET THEY DANCED THEM A JIG

AND THEY LAUGHED AND SANG A NEW SONG

"WHO SAID WE'D NEVER LEAVE HARLAN ALIVE"

BUT THE TIMES GOT HARD AND TOBACCO WASN'T SELLING

AND OLD GRANDAD KNEW WHAT HE'D DO TO SURVIVE

SO HE WENT AND DUG FOR HARLAN COAL

SENT THE MONEY BACK TO GRANNY

BUT HE NEVER LEFT HARLAN ALIVE

 

[Chorus]

THE SUN COMES UP ABOUT TEN IN THE MORNIN'

AND THE SUN GOES DOWN ABOUT THREE IN THE DAY

YOU FILL YOUR CUP WITH WHATEVER BITTER BREW YOU'RE DRINKIN'

AND YOU SPEND YOUR LIFE DIGGIN' COAL FROM THE BOTTOM OF YOUR GRAVE

 

DARK AS A DUNGEON

MERLE TRAVIS

 

COME AND LISTEN YOU FELLOWS SO YOUNG AND SO FINE

AND SEEK NOT YOUR FORTUNES IN THE DARK DREARY MINES

IT WILL FORM AS A HABIT AND SEEP IN YOUR SOUL

TILL THE STREAM OF YOUR BLOOD RUNS AS BLACK AS THE COAL

 

[Chorus]

WHERE IT'S DARK AS A DUNGEON AND DAMP AS THE DEW

WHERE DANGER IS DOUBLE AND PLEASURES ARE FEW

WHERE THE RAIN NEVER FALLS AND THE SUN NEVER SHINES

IT'S DARK AS A DUNGEON WAY DOWN IN THE MINES

 

IT'S A MANY A MAN I HAVE KNOWN IN MY DAY

WHO LIVED JUST TO LABOR HIS WHOLE LIFE AWAY

LIKE THE FIEND WITH HIS DOPE OR A DRUNKARD HIS WINE

A MAN WILL HAVE LUST FOR THE LURE OF THE MINES

 

[Chorus]

WELL THE MIDNIGHT OR THE MORNING OR THE MIDDLE OF DAY

IS THE SAME TO THE MINER DIGGING AWAY

WHERE THE DEMONS OF DEATH OFTEN COME BY SURPRISE

ONE FALL OF THE SLATE AND YOU'RE BURIED ALIVE

 

[Chorus]

WELL I HOPE WHEN I'M GONE AND THE AGES SHALL ROLL

MY BODY WILL BLACKEN AND TURN INTO COAL

THEN I'LL LOOK FROM THE DOOR OF MY HEAVENLY HOME

AND PITY THE MINER DIGGING MY BONES

 

[Chorus]

OH IT'S DARK AS A DUNGEON WAY DOWN IN THE MINES

 

THE COMING OF THE ROADS

Billy Edd Wheeler

 

NOW THAT OUR MOUNTAIN IS GROWING WITH PEOPLE HUNGRY FOR WEALTH

HOW COME IT'S YOU THAT'S A-GOING

AND I'M LEFT ALL ALONE BY MYSELF?

WE USED TO HUNT THE COOL CAVERNS DEEP IN OUR FOREST OF GREEN

THEN CAME THE ROAD AND THE TAVERNS AND YOU FOUND A NEW LOVE IT SEEMS

 

ONCE I HAD YOU AND THE WILDWOOD, NOW IT'S JUST DUSTY ROADS

AND I CAN'T HELP BUT BLAMIN' YOUR GOING

ON THE COMING, THE COMING OF THE ROADS

 

LOOK HOW THEY'VE CUT ALL TO PIECES OUR ANCIENT REDWOOD AND OAK

AND THE HILLSIDES ARE STAINED WITH THE GREASES

THAT BURNED UP THE HEAVENS WITH SMOKE

 

YOU USED TO CURSE THE BOLD CREWMEN

WHO STRIPPED OUR EARTH OF ITS ORE

NOW YOU'VE CHANGED AND YOU'VE GONE OVER TO THEM

AND YOU'VE LEARNED TO LOVE WHAT YOU HATED BEFORE

 

ONCE I THANKED GOD FOR OUR TREASURE, NOW LIKE RUST IT CORRODES

AND I CAN'T HELP BUT BLAMIN' YOUR GOIN'

ON THE COMING, THE COMING OF THE ROADS.

 

ONCE I THANKED GOD FOR OUR TREASURE, NOW LIKE RUST IT CORRODES

AND I CAN'T HELP BUT BLAMIN' YOUR GOIN'

ON THE COMING, THE COMING OF THE ROADS.

 

NO I CAN'T HELP BUT BLAMIN' YOUR GOIN'

ON THE COMING, THE COMING OF THE ROADS

 

BLACK LUNG

HAZEL DICKENS

 

HE'S HAD MORE HARD LUCK THAN MOST MEN COULD STAND

THE MINES WAS HIS FIRST LOVE BUT NEVER HIS FRIEND

HE'S LIVED A HARD LIFE AND HARD HE'LL DIE

BLACK LUNG'S DONE GOT HIM HIS TIME IS NIGH

 

BLACK LUNG, BLACK LUNG, OH YOU'RE JUST BIDIN' YOUR TIME

SOON ALL OF THIS SUFFERIN' I'LL LEAVE BEHIND

BUT I CAIN'T HELP BUT WONDER WHAT GOD HAD IN MIND

TO SEND SUCH A DEVIL TO CLAIM THIS SOUL OF MINE

 

HE WENT TO THE BOSS MAN BUT HE CLOSED THE DOOR

WELL IT SEEMS YOU'RE NOT WANTED WHEN YOU'RE SICK AND YOU'RE POOR

YOU AIN'T EVEN COVERED IN THEIR MEDICAL PLANS

AND YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON THE FAVORS OF MAN

 

DOWN IN THE POOR HOUSE ON STARVATION'S PLAN

WHERE PRIDE IS A STRANGER AND DOOMED IS A MAN

HIS SOUL FULL OF COAL DUST TILL HIS BODY'S DECAYED

AND EVERYONE BUT BLACK LUNG'S DONE TURNED HIM AWAY

 

BLACK LUNG, BLACK LUNG, OH YOUR HAND'S ICY COLD

AS YOU REACH FOR MY LIFE AND YOU TORTURE MY SOUL

COLD AS THAT WATER HOLE DOWN IN THAT DARK CAVE

WHERE I SPENT MY LIFE'S BLOOD DIGGIN' MY OWN GRAVE

 

DOWN AT THE GRAVEYARD THE BOSS MAN CAME

WITH HIS LITTLE BUNCH OF FLOWERS, DEAR GOD WHAT A SHAME

TAKE BACK THOSE FLOWERS DON'T YOU SING NO SAD SONGS

THE DIE HAS BEEN CAST NOW, A GOOD MAN IS GONE

 

HE'S HAD MORE HARD LUCK THAN MOST MEN COULD STAND

THE MINES WAS HIS FIRST LOVE BUT NEVER HIS FRIEND

HE'S LIVED A HARD LIFE AND HARD HE'LL DIE

BLACK LUNG'S DONE GOT HIM HIS TIME IS NIGH

 

BLACK LUNG, BLACK LUNG, OH YOU'RE JUST BIDIN' YOUR TIME

SOON ALL OF THIS SUFFERIN' I'LL LEAVE BEHIND

BUT I CAIN'T HELP BUT WONDER WHAT GOD HAD IN MIND

TO SEND SUCH A DEVIL TO CLAIM THIS SOUL OF MINE

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