Steve Earle Previews New Album With Miners’ Ode ‘Devil Put the Coal in the Ground’
Steve Earle examines the physical strength and life-risking bravery of Appalachian miners in “Devil Put the Coal in the Ground,” the first preview of the singer’s new album, Ghosts of West Virginia. The follow-up to the Texas-born singer-songwriter’s 2019 Guy Clark tribute album, Guy, Earle and his band the Dukes’ Ghosts of West Virginia has roots in the New York theater community.
Earle was approached by playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, with whom he’d worked on The Exonerated, to collaborate on a play about the 2010 Upper Big Branch disaster in West Virginia, which killed 29 men. The finished work, Coal Country, features Earle as a kind of Greek chorus and opens March 3rd, with shows running through March 29th, at the Public Theater in New York. (Tickets are available here.)
During a production of Coal Country, Earle sings seven of the songs that have been recorded for Ghosts of West Virginia, which also centers on the Upper Big Branch disaster. For composing around this theme, the famously liberal Earle challenged himself to write songs that would embrace and sympathize with people who may not align with him politically.
“One of the dangers that we’re in is if people like me keep thinking that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist or an asshole, then we’re fucked, because it’s simply not true,” he says in a release. “So this is one move toward something that might take a generation to change. I wanted to do something where that dialogue could begin.”
Over the course of the album, Earle examines hardship and loss, but also sets his sights on the mining company whose safety violations doomed the miners and the union-busting politicians who eroded their bargaining power. But in “Devil Put the Coal in the Ground,” Earle employs a heave-ho work-song rhythm to conjure the pride of working men as they descend into the mines. With a bluesy, hypnotic musical backdrop of banjo, droning fiddle, and pounding percussion, Earle drawls his lyrics in a way that almost sounds like a taunt: “The good lord gimme two hands/Says is you an animal or is you a man.” It transforms into a psychedelic guitar odyssey, thrilling and anxiety-ridden all at once.
Earle has a handful of new tour dates on the books, both solo and with the Dukes.
Steve Earle — Ghosts of West Virginia track list:
- “Heaven Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”
- “Union, God and Country”
- “Devil Put the Coal in the Ground”
- “John Henry Was a Steel Drivin’ Man”
- “Time Is Never On Our Side”
- “It’s About Blood”
- “If I Could See Your Face Again” (featuring Eleanor Masterson)
- “Black Lung”
- “Fastest Man Alive”
- “The Mine”
Steve Earle tour dates:
May 10 — North Charleston, WV @ Culture Center Theater/NPR Mountain Stage (Solo)
May 31 — Grand Prairie, TX @ The Theatre at Grand Prairie — The Lonestar Landfest
June 8 — Kent, OH @ The Kent Stage
June 9 — State College, PA @ State Theatre
June 10 — Phoenixville, PA @ Colonial Theatre
June 12 — East Greenwich, RI @ Greenwich Odeum
June 13 — North Turo, MA @ Payomet Performing Arts Center
June 14 — Riverhead, NY @ The Suffolk Theater
June 18 — Salisbury, MA @ Blue Ocean Music Hall
June 19 — Plymouth, NH @ Flying Monkey Performance Center
June 20 — Portland, ME @ Aura
July 4 — Enoch, AB @ River Cree Casino & Resort
July 26 — Paso Robles, CA @ California Mid-State Fair (w/ Eric Church)
August 7 — Burnaby, BC @ Burnaby Blues & Roots Fest
August 29 — Shipshewana, IN @ Blue Gate Theatre
September 8-11 — Big Indian, NY @ Steve Earle’s Camp Copperhead
November 16-20 — Punta Cana, Dominican Republic @ All the Best Fest (Solo)
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