John Mellencamp channels the darkness of coal mining life in his reverent cover of Merle Travis’ 1946 song “Dark as a Dungeon,” recorded in support of National Geographic’s acclaimed documentary about the mining industry, From the Ashes.
Throughout the folk tune – which Johnny Cash popularized on his iconic 1968 live album, At Folsom Prison – Mellencamp strums an acoustic guitar and croons in a deep, gravelly baritone. “It’s dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew/ Where danger is double and pleasures are few,” he warns, backed by an accordion and occasional tambourine tap. “Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines/ And it’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mines.”
The accompanying video anchors the message with shots of foggy mountains, rolling trains and men shoveling coal. The clip ends with a plea for donations “to help coal communities as America transitions to cleaner energy” via Crowdrise.
From the Ashes, an official selection at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, explores the legacy and future of the U.S. coal industry. The film premiered June 25th on National Geographic, and it’s available to stream for free until July 3rd via YouTube, Facebook, Hulu, Amazon, Google Play, Video on Demand and the National Geographic website and TV apps.
Mellencamp released his 23rd studio album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, in April. The singer-songwriter is currently deep into a North American tour that continues through mid-September.