Steve Earle & The Dukes - Devil Put the Coal in the Ground

Song of the Day
Hosted by John Richards
Today's Song of the Day, as chosen by John Richards, host of The Morning Show on KEXP, is “Devil Put the Coal in the Ground” by Steve Earle & the Dukes, from the 2020 album Ghosts of West Virginia on New West Records.
written by Janice Headley

In 2010, the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia exploded, killing twenty-nine of the thirty-one miners present at the time. It's been called one of the worst mining disasters in American history. And it inspired the latest album from veteran singer/songwriter Steve Earle, titled Ghosts of West Virginia.

The project originated with the off-Broadway play Coal Country, written by playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, who approached Earle to compose the score. They spent four years researching the tragedy, interviewing the surviving miners, as well as the families of those who died. Earle appears on stage throughout the duration of the play, functioning as “a Greek chorus with a guitar,” he explains. “The actors don’t relate directly with the audience,” he elaborates via a press release. “I do. The actors don’t realize the audience is there. I do.”

In composing these songs, Earle had to assume the perspectives of the residents 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 continued.  “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.” 

While the play had to cancel its run in New York City due the coronavirus, Earle will release the songs as his 20th studio album on May 22nd via New West Records. 

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