Calling Me Home
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Let me introduce myself/Hello, my name is coal,” sings Kathy Mattea on her striking version of Larry Cordle’s song. It takes guts along with self-confidence to turn your back on a commercially successful style to head for the rough edges on the sidelines. But that’s often where the most challenging and poignant music lies. So kudos to country hit maker Mattea for discarding the slick Nash Vegas sound that made her a chart topping singer, to dig deep into the Appalachian coal mining tunes that formed her stark, dark and deeply emotional 2008 indie release Coal. She has returned four years later with what is basically Coal Part 2, another dozen tunes about life around coal mines and miners.
It’s impossible to look askew at this as a typical cash-in on a successful album, especially since these performances are every bit as tough, raw and emotionally charged as those on her previous release. Mattea returns to the well of Jean Ritchie tunes for three more of her compositions that form the nucleus of this dozen track set. Another three from Alice Gerrard show the integrity of Mattea’s roots in this sound, and her a cappela version of the title track will send chills down the toughest, most veteran miner’s back. Patty Loveless, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Oliver Wood provide backing vocals, but this is all Mattea’s show. Her husky yet smooth and never pretentious singing brings emotional gravitas to songs that already burned with it. She proves there can be a better, richer life after commercial stardom for those willing to take the risk.