A Far Cry
Gone, Gonna Rise Again
The Wood Thrush’s Song
West Virginia Mine Disaster
The Maple’s Lament
Hello, My Name Is Coal
Calling Me Home
West Virginia, My Home
Now Is the Cool of the Day
Requiem for a Mountain
Kathy Mattea – lead vocal
Jim Brock - percussion
Byron House – bass
Bryan Sutton – mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, high strung guitar, octave banjo, octave mandolin
Bill Cooley – acoustic guitar
Stuart Duncan – fiddle, banjo, mandolin, bowed zither
Tim Lauer – accordion, pump organ, additional percussion
John Randall Stewart – electric guitar
Tim O’Brien – harmony vocal
Randy Kohrs – Dobro (“A Far Cry”), Weissenborn guitar (“West Virginia Mine Disaster”, “West Virginia, My Home”)
Tim Eriksen – harmony vocal (“Calling Me Home”)
Patty Loveless – harmony vocal (“Black Water”)
Emmylou Harris – harmony vocal (“Black Water”)
Aoife O’Donovan – harmony vocal (“Gone, Gonna Rise Again,” “The Wood Thrush’s Song,” “West Virginia Mine Disaster”)
Sarah Dugas – harmony vocal (“West Virginia Mine Disaster,” “Hello, My Name Is Coal”)
Oliver Wood – harmony vocal (“Hello, My Name Is Coal”)
Mollie O’Brien – harmony vocal (“West Virginia, My Home”)
Alison Krauss – harmony vocal (“Agate Hill”)
Produced by Gary Paczosa & Kathy Mattea
Recorded by Gary Paczosa & Brandon Bell at Sound Emporium Recording Studios, Nashville, TN
Mixed by Gary Paczosa at Minutia, Nashville, TN
Additional recording at Minutia, Nashville, TN
Patty Loveless vocals engineered by Ellery Durgin at Cave 2 Studio, Dallas, GA
Tim Eriksen vocals engineered by Garrett Sawyer at Northfire Recording Studio, Amherst, MA
Mastered by Don Cobb and Eric Conn at Independent Mastering, Nashville, TN
Photography by David McClister
Art Direction and Design by Carrie Smith
Every time I make a record, I am struck once again by the sheer wonder of the talent streaming through the various people I get to collaborate with, the flavor of each voice, each person’s approach to music and record making and fostering collaboration. There have been many moments that I’ve been moved to tears by the depth and breadth of a lifetime’s work, brought to bear on a small passage of music on “my” record. It’s a privilege to still be doing this, and it’s one of the great gifts of my life to get to spend open-ended time playing, listening, learning, collaborating and sitting at the feet of so many masters.
I especially want to thank Gary, for seeing the potential in this record even before I was sure the project was going to gel, and for embracing it and seeing it through to the end. And to Brandon, for all your help along the way.
Many thanks to Bill, for the countless hours of woodshedding, and the wonderful arrangement ideas. I think you’re brilliant!
To Marc, for knowing when to push me, and knowing when to leave space. And Don, for your big heart, solidarity and gentle but firm support.
To Mr. Jones (he wants me to call him “Charlie”), for your generosity in giving us the run of Port Amherst, and your lovely farm in Oak Hill, to make the pictures for this album.
Cliff, Donica and the entire Sugar Hill team, for inviting me in and giving me a home.
Jeanna and everyone at IMN, for “getting” me.
Tim O for brotherly love, inspiration and the closest thing to family harmony I can imagine.
Jon, for your unwavering support, and lots of inspiration, in so many ways.
Phoebe, for keeping me focused and on track, and helping me to keep growing.
Thanks to Alison, Emmy, Patty, Oliver, Sarah, Aoife, Tim O, Mollie, Tim E… I love the supporting vocals on this record SO MUCH.
And to Si Kahn, Alice Gerrard, Mari-Lyn Evans, Jean Ritchie, Silas House and Jason Howard, Larry Gibson for inspiring Requiem, Eamonn, David, Jay, and Fred.
And to the Divas, thank you for helping me stay on solid ground.
For Hazel Dickens and Judy Bonds.
Management: Marc Dottore for M. Dottore Management, LLC
Agency: Jeanna Disney of International Music Network imnworld.com
A four-hour stretch of mountain highway runs between the farm where I live in southwestern Virginia and the one in Kentucky where I grew up. I call that road “the home stretch.” On one end of it stands my household, husband and child, and on the other are the people who made me. So either way I drive it, I’m going home. I’ve traveled it in all weather, headed for births and funerals and everything in between, with plenty on my mind. I’m careful about choosing music. Last weekend when I made that trip to meet some especially poignant family duties, I put on this collection of songs for a first good listen. Miles down the road I found myself replaying them still, nearly weeping for how perfectly the soundtrack suited my journey.
Okay, “nearly weeping” is a euphemism. I was already starting to choke up on the fourth track, “West Virginia Mine Disaster,” as I passed through the county where my great aunt spent her long life as a nurse in the coal fields tending the injuries and illnesses that mining so regularly inflicts. I was thinking about how she lost her husband tragically and too soon, and I passed the cemetery where the two of them are finally now together, just as the song rose to its full-throated question: “What will I say to my heart that’s clear broken… if my baby is gone?” My view of the road got a little bleary at that point. Windshield wipers weren’t helpful. And on from there it went, into the haunting elegy “Calling Me Home,” with Kathy’s stunning vocals and Tim Eriksen’s otherworldly harmonies framing a simple, astonishing ode to making peace with death.
There are certain places on that drive where I pass over a ridge into views of blue-green forest and valley that take my breath away. I steer my vessel between steep shale cliffs like monstrous ocean waves that are really the guts of a mountain blown open by dynamite. I cross the shadow of a gigantic coal-fired smokestack that I always curse under my breath because it looks like a haughty, man-made finger aimed at heaven. Of course, it rises from the very power plant that lights up my home and the computer on which I am writing these words. So I laughed and swore some more when Kathy hit me with Larry Cordle’s cheeky ballad “Hello, My Name is Coal,” a dead-on portrait of our savior and demon addiction, Mr. Coal. This road I call the home stretch crosses the rugged Appalachian geography of a lifetime, heartaches and hopes and contradictions included. All of it seemed to mean so much more when set to the tune of fiddle or banjo or bowed zither and a voice of rare wisdom and strength.
About midway, the road passes the town where my parents first took me to hear a Jean Ritchie concert in a high school gym. They taught me to revere the likes of Ritchie and Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard as the voices of our people. A generation later I taught my own kids to love Si Kahn as the voice of all good hopes that get shoved down and rise up again. Incredibly, all those writers are represented in this collection. And there are others, new to me, like Laurie Lewis, whose poetic invocations of living nature are some of the most moving I’ve heard. Somewhere between “The Wood Thrush’s Song” and “The Maple’s Lament” I traversed the Red River Gorge where my family used to go camping, and recalled the joy of waking up in a canvas tent to hear my favorite music in all the world, the song of a wood thrush. As a child I watched my parents band together with others who loved that pristine gorge to save it from proposed development and inundation. I understood that “roots” referred not only to our music, but to the literal connection between a tree and its ground. This is the place that made me a person, and gave me the gumption to fight for the pieces of home I can’t bear to lose.
I’ve known for some time that Kathy is no stranger to that kind of gumption. We first met at a performance in Knoxville where we blended our two different kinds of voices and raised them up in a plea to stop mountaintop removal. Long before that, her songs had walked with me through many a shadowed valley where life had carried me too far away from my roots. But somehow this collection has managed to hit home in a new way, with so many sentiments I swear are being sung just for me. This highway’s a ribbon of lonesome. It’s a far cry from here to Virginia. I miss my friends of yesterday, and oh, how I long to feel the spell of the wood thrush’s song. I miss what these mountains must have been before we cut open their veins – The Garden of the Lord, in Jean Ritchie’s mighty words – and the clear streams that heaved and sighed on their flanks before the black waters ran down.
On that Saturday drive when I listened the first time, I had just received the songs from Kathy as downloadable files without packaging or description, so I didn’t even know what she intended to call this collection. A few days later, I learned the title track is “Calling Me Home.” And I said, well of course it is. These songs have been chosen with insight and love, rendered in earnest, as moving as only the truth can be. I will listen again and again, whenever I’m headed home. The particular genius of Kathy Mattea is to call up the touchstones of hope and heartbreak that we all carry in our pockets. Even if these mountains are not yours, the fact is everybody has a home stretch, where you feel a little torn up because no matter which way you’re headed, you are going towards home and also leaving it behind. Believe me, this is the soundtrack for that journey.
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