Release Date: April 1, 2008

By Susie Glaze


Grammy-winning singer of such classics as 18 Wheels and A Dozen Roses, Where've You Been, Kathy Mattea says that her new album offered her a "re-education" in singing. Produced by Marty Stuart, COAL is an important work, in that Mattea brings the heartbreak and tragedy of the Appalachian coal-mining culture to the fore. And for some, especially die-hard Mattea fans, this will be an eye-opening journey into a land not heretofore travailed.

Mattea chose the perfect producer in Stuart, whose understanding of traditional country stems from his familial connection to the original Carter Family. He is also a commercial country star and now a producer, and he's put together this album with Mattea's strengths in mind -more contemporary songs are mixed in with the old, offering Mattea a chance to shine in her pop/folk blend while giving her a chance to stretch with older classics from the early part of the 20th century.

The musicians present a great acoustic band sound: Marty Stuart on a fine mandolin, guitar and harmony vocals, Bill Cooley on guitar, Byron House on upright bass, the incredible Stuart Duncan on fiddle and banjo. Fred Newell adds steel guitar.

The album opens with two Jean Ritchie songs, The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore (with an altered melody) and Blue Diamond Mines (with Patty Loveless harmony). Billy Edd Wheeler is represented with the ballad Red Winged Blackbird, the galloping Coal Tattoo (in a great band performance) and The Coming of the Roads. Darrel Scott's You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive is the perfect matching of the old and new, and Mattea's warm vocals are just what it needs. Si Kahn's devastating Lawrence Jones is balanced by the sweetness of Utah Phillips' Green Rolling Hills with Tim and Mollie O'Brien on harmony vocals.

From her website: "Mattea's childhood was steeped in the culture of mining and Appalachia, but. . . ‘I never thought I had an ear for singing real heavy Appalachian music,' she says. ‘I marvel at the wonder of someone like Hazel Dickens, I just never thought I could do that.'" When the songs on this CD run toward the traditional, such as in Merle Travis' Dark as a Dungeon (with electric guitar, organ and piano) or Hazel Dickens' Black Lung, Mattea's contemporary styling takes the power out of them. She slides and growls through these songs, their purity not trusted to tell a story with simple melody. I remember first hearing Kathy Mattea and thinking that this was such an appealing voice, a nurturing, comforting sound, suggesting that all was right with the world. Often on COAL, subject matter and singer are not well-matched - her smooth, contemporary sound doesn't artistically reflect the rawness and pain of a coal mining life.

However, the bottom line is that the subject should be heard, and its songs are the rightful expression. Only they can express the pain and hardship powerfully and deeply enough. Mattea is bringing them to a wide audience, and for that she should be applauded.

Award-winning recording artist and critically-acclaimed Bluegrass powerhouse vocalist, Susie Glaze has been called by BLUEGRASS UNLIMITED " important voice on the California Bluegrass scene." Her new release Green Kentucky Blues and others can be found at