Steve Earle & The Dukes — Ghosts of West Virginia (May 22, 2020)USA FLAG Steve Earle & The Dukes — Ghosts of West Virginia  Steve Earle & The Dukes — Ghosts of West Virginia (May 22, 2020)↵    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.  When asked about what drove him to craft his deeply evocative new album, Steve Earle says, “I thought that, given the way things are now, it was maybe my responsibility to make a record that spoke to and for people who didn’t vote the way that I did,” he says. “One of the dangers that we’re in is if people like me keep thinking that everybody who voted for Trump is a racist or an asshole, then we’re fucked, because it’s simply not true. So this is one move toward something that might take a generation to change. I wanted to do something where that dialogue could begin.”
↵    In ten deftly drawn, roughly eloquent, powerfully conveyed sonic portraits, Earle and his long~time band the Dukes explore the historical role of coal in rural communities. More than merely a question of jobs and income, mining has provided a sense of unity and meaning, patriotic pride and purpose.
↵    “I said I wanted to speak to people that didn’t necessarily vote the way that I did,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean we don’t have anything in common. We need to learn how to communicate with each other. My involvement in this project is my little contribution to that effort. And the way to do that — and to do it impeccably — is simply to honor those guys who died at Upper Big Branch.” Steve Earle & The Dukes — Ghosts of West Virginia (May 22, 2020)Birthname: Stephen Fain Earle
Nationality: American
Born: Jan 17, 1955
Location: Greenwich Village, New York
Album release: May 22, 2020
Record Label: New West Records
Duration:   13:20+16:29 => 29:49
Side A
1. Heaven Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere   1:40
2. Union, God and Country   2:23
3. Devil Put the Coal in the Ground   2:53
4. John Henry was a Steel Drivin’ Man   3:29
5. Time is Never on Our Side   2:55
Side B  
1. It’s About Blood   4:33
2. If I Could See Your Face Again (feat. Eleanor Whitmore)   2:57
3. Black Lung   3:19
4. Fastest Man Alive   2:51
5. The Mine   2:49Steve Earle & The Dukes — Ghosts of West Virginia (May 22, 2020)
By Kyle Mullin ⌊ May 19, 2020 ⌋ Score: ★★★★
↵    Steve Earle will leave you shaking in your boots as you listen to “It’s About Blood.”
Thankfully, you aren’t the subject of the Americana veteran’s ire on this standout track from his new album, Ghosts of West Virginia. Yet the long renowned songwriter — who’s an even better performer — makes listeners viscerally feel every venomous syllable as he spits lyrics at bigwigs who exploit coal miners, leaving grieving relatives “waking up in the middle of the night alone.” Equally fired up guitar, punchy percussion and Southern Gothic fiddle from the Hardcore Troubadour’s trusty backup band the Dukes all help make “It’s About Blood” even more pulse~pounding. To hear these long~toothed performers chew up the song’s scenery so ravenously is to be thrilled by one of alt~country’s most consistent and ambitious acts, 30 years after they broke through with the self~prophecizing classic “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied.”
↵    Refusing to rest on your laurels is one thing. But here, the 65~year~old Earle and his dutiful Dukes have upped the ante by recording a concept album abounding with theatrical lyrics and socially conscious themes. Earle began penning many of these songs at the behest of acclaimed playwrights (and prior collaborators) Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, who wanted music for their new production Coal Country. Their play centers on the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia, where 29 miners died thanks to policies that placed profit over the workers’ wellbeing.
↵    Earle rises to that task with writing and performing worthy of a theatrical production (he was cast to sing many of these songs as a Greek chorus~esque narrator in Coal Country, which opened off~Broadway back in March). On “Time Is Never on Our Side,” for instance, he brings his typical rasp to a tender world~weary hush while singing about the Upper Big Branch disaster being like “God reaching out and closing his hand.” The song is fittingly rounded out by the Dukes’ heart~wrenching violin and gentle~as~a~breeze percussion.
↵    As a testament to the band and their leader’s range, Ghosts also features latter half standout “Black Lung.” That song’s subject matter is arguably the heaviest of any on the album, especially when Earle’s lyrics zero in on the emotional and physical tolls that the song’s titular illness has had on slews of miners over the ages. That theme is sharply contrasted by the song’s propulsive music, from the bluegrassy fiddle and banjo to Earle’s hoedown~worthy singing, and an electric guitar that purrs like a revved engine. Aside from its thorough catchiness, the song also works by staving off cheap sentimentality in favor of juxtaposed elements that give it complexity and an overall tone of steely determination. All that comes despite the haunting lyrics about a character rendered fatally breathless by his subterranean trade.
↵    For a far more straightforward ode to those laborers, be sure to crank the volume “Devil Put the Coal in the Ground,” one of the album’s opening tracks. Its swaggering acoustic strumming mingles with a livewire electric guitar solo at the song’s apex, while drums boom like the explosives used to break ground so miners can descend into danger. Earle, meanwhile, all but grits his teeth while snarling anthemic lyrics about the daunting task these laborers take on. His delivery is more speak~sing~y on the folkier “John Henry Was a Steel Drivin’ Man,” though Earle’s palpable empathy for these disenfranchised workers is no less apparent, especially when he reaches a bitterly succinct verse about the weakening of the unions over time.
↵    With its specificity and openhearted empathy, Earle and his band mates immerse listeners in a blue-collar tragedy on Ghosts of West Virginia, while also speaking to broader societal truths. Instead of digging up coal like the miners grippingly depicted in these new songs, the Hardcore Troubadour and the Dukes unearth anthemic gems for America’s marginalized.

No. 20 Jones StreetNo. 20 Jones Street
∇⇒     In 1794 Dr. Gardiner Jones laid out a short lane in Greenwich Village.  The block~long road took his name, becoming Jones Street.  Half a century later, around 1844, developer George Schott completed a row of stylish Greek Revival rowhouses on the block.