Ghosts of West Virginia, the new album from Steve Earle & the Dukes, is a record steeped in tragedy.
The record was released on May 22, and was inspired by one of the worst mining disasters in U.S. history, the Upper Big Branch disaster of 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.
It’s a haunting record, the result of some serious inspiration that struck Steve Earle and his colleagues as the focal point for the album:
“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.”
Stream Ghosts of West Virginia below: