WDIY New Music Spotlight: Steve Earle & The Dukes - 'Ghosts of West Virginia'

May 27, 2020

Steve Earle has always been a voice for change, the working man, for freedom in the face of all that is unjust and corrupt in this wrong-ended world. Coming out with one of the strongest and cohesive albums in quite some time, he releases Ghosts of West Virginia.

The new album is a song cycle inspired by the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion and fire that killed 29 miners.  Earle wrote 7 of the 10 songs originally for Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's drama Coal Country to which he delivered commentary, ''a greek chorus with a guitar,'' he states.

Earle describes the record, which is his 20th studio album, as, ''a record that speaks to and for people who didn't vote the way I did,'' meaning working class Trump voters. He doesn't mention specifics in this vein but wanted to perhaps start a dialogue within the different parties to which our country has been divided.

Giving a voice to the unfortunate miners in the story is something that Earle does best with his lyrics and grizzled delivery. His band, the Dukes, have returned giving Earle that punch that brings home the words and story in a straightforward fashion. Opening with an a cappella number, "Heaven Ain't Goin' Nowhere" to start the proceedings, the record mostly continues with an Appalachian grunge then generates into a bluesy twang. Also a bluegrass twinge recalling Earle's 1999 disc The Mountain with Del McCoury and his band is a welcomed return for Earle. One of the most notable highlights is fiddler's Eleanor Whitmore's lead vocal on "If I Could See Your Face Again" to give the material the gravitas it richly deserves.

Steve Earle has returned to give voice to the downtrodden, the ones who toil beneath the earth with great humility and grace and grit.  We'll start you off with another highlight of the disc, the searing "Black Lung."