New from Steve Earle & the Dukes: Stream ‘John Henry Was a Steel-Drivin’ Man,’ from New LP ‘Ghosts of West Virginia’

Rock Cellar Magazine StaffCategories:Latest News

Rock Cellar Magazine

Steve Earle & the Dukes will release a new album, Ghosts of West Virginia, on May 22. Announced last month, the LP will be Earle’s 20th full-length album, and the first since 2019’s Guy, a tribute record honoring the legacy of Guy Clarke.

Recently, a song from the record was premiered — here’s “John Henry Was a Steel-Drivin’ Man”:

The album takes its roots from a real-life coal mining accident that took place in West Virginia in 2010:

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. Investigations revealed hundreds of safety violations, as well as attempts to cover them up, and the mine’s owners were forced to pay more than $200 million in criminal liabilities. 

For this record, Earle collaborated with the latest version of his longtime backing band, The Dukes: Chris Masterson on guitar, Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle & vocals, Ricky Ray Jackson on pedal steel, guitar & dobro, Brad Pemberton on drums & percussion, and Jeff Hill on acoustic & electric bass.

Of particular note is that the album was recorded and mixed entirely in mono — a result of the partial hearing loss in one ear that has left Steve Earle unable to “discern the separation that stereo is designed to produce,” per a news release.

Expanding on the album’s conception and themes in an official statement, Earle had this to say, a message indicative of his desire to further the current discourse in the United States:

“You can’t begin communicating with people unless you understand the texture of their lives, the realities that provide significance to their days. That is the entire point of Ghosts of West Virginia. 

“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 everyone 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.” He adds, “I said I wanted to speak to people that didn’t necessarily vote the way that I did, 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.” 

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