Steve Earle Drops "Ghosts of West Virginia" on May 22, 2020
Photo By Jacob Blickenstaff | Steve Earle Drops "Ghosts of West Virginia" on May 22, 2020

Steve Earle Drops “Ghosts of West Virginia” on May 22nd

Steve Earle & The Dukes will release Ghosts of West Virginia on May 22nd, 2020 via New West Records. The album was produced by Steve Earle and engineered by Ray Kennedy at Jimi Hendrix’s legendary Electric Lady Studios in New York City. The 10-song set is Earle’s 20th studio album and was mixed entirely in mono, lending a sonic cohesion and punch. In recent years, Earle has experienced partial hearing loss in one ear and can no longer discern the separation that stereo is designed to produce. The recording features his latest incarnation of his backing band The Dukes; Chris Masterson on guitar, Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle & vocals, Ricky Ray Jackson on pedal steel, guitar & dobro, Brad Pemberton on drums & percussion, and Jeff Hill on acoustic & electric bass.

Ghosts of West Virginia centers on the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion that killed twenty-nine men in that state in 2010, making it one of the worst mining disasters in American history. Investigations revealed hundreds of safety violations, as well as attempts to cover them up, and the mine’s owners were forced to pay more than $200 million in criminal liabilities.

Listen to “Devil Put the Coal in the Ground” (Above).  The song is a tough-minded recognition of the dangers of the mining life and the pride of doing such a demanding job in the face of danger.

Earle started working on the album after being approached by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, a playwrighting team that would create Coal Country, a theater piece about the Upper Big Branch disaster. They interviewed the surviving West Virginia miners, along with the families of the miners who died, and created monologues for their characters using those words. Working closely with Oskar Eustis, Public Theater’s Artistic Director, they workshopped the songs and text for nearly four years. Earle functions as “a Greek chorus with a guitar,” in his words. He is on stage for the entire play and performs seven of the songs that lead Ghosts of West Virginia, including the powerful “It’s About Blood,” in which Earle blazons the names of all the men who died. “The actors don’t relate directly with the audience,” Earle explains. “I do. The actors don’t realize the audience is there. I do.” The songs provide personal, historical and social context for the testimony of the play’s characters. Currently in previews, Coal Country officially opens on March 3rd at The Public Theater in New York City and runs through March 29, 2020.

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About Jerry Holthouse

Music editor for Nashville.com. Jerry Holthouse is a content writer, songwriter and a graphic designer. He owns and runs Holthouse Creative, a full service creative agency. He is an avid outdoorsman and a lover of everything music. You can contact him at JerryHolthouse@Nashville.com

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