Published Feb 27, 2020Just shy of a year removed from their Guy Clark tribute album, Steve Earle & the Dukes have announced a follow-up effort. The band will release Ghosts of West Virginia on May 22 through New West Records.
The 10-song set centres on 2010's Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion, one of the worst mining disasters in American history that killed 29 men. Subsequent investigations revealed hundreds of safety violations and attempts to cover them up, and the mine's owners were forced to pay over $200 million in criminal liabilities.
Earle began work on the album after being approached by playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, who were looking to collaborate on a play on the Upper Big Branch disaster. The finished production, Coal Country, features Earle singing seven of the songs that also appear on Ghosts of West Virginia.
Earle soon found the album process was an opportunity to explore a new songwriting approach, penning material for and about those who may not align with him politically.
"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," Earle explained in a statement. "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 continued: "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 honour those guys who died at Upper Big Branch."
Alongside the announcement, Steve Earle & the Dukes have shared "Devil Put the Coal in the Ground," which you can hear in the player below.
Produced by Earle and engineered by Ray Kennedy, Ghosts of West Virginia was mixed entirely in mono. A press release reveals that in recent years, Earle has experienced partial hearing loss in one ear, leaving him unable to discern the separation that stereo is designed to produce.
The current incarnation of the Dukes features Chris Masterson on guitar; Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle and vocals; Ricky Ray Jackson on pedal steel, guitar and dobro; Brad Pemberton on drums and percussion; and Jeff Hill on acoustic and electric bass.
Earle and the Dukes will tour behind the album later this year, with their itinerary including a stop at British Columbia's Burnaby Blues + Roots Festival. Find their schedule following the album's tracklist below.
Ghosts of West Virginia:
1. Heaven Ain't Goin' Nowhere
2. Union, God and Country
3. Devil Put The Coal In The Ground
4. John Henry Was A Steel Drivin' Man
5. Time Is Never On Our Side
6. It's About Blood
7. If I Could See Your Face Again (featuring Eleanor Whitmore)
8. Black Lung
9. Fastest Man Alive
10. The Mine
05/10 North Charleston, WV - Culture Center Theater / NPR Mountain Stage *
05/31 Grand Prairie, TX - The Theatre at Grand Prairie - The Lonestar Landfest
06/08 Kent, OH - -The Kent Stage
06/09 State College, PA - State Theatre
06/10 Phoenixville, PA - Colonial Theatre
06/12 East Greenwich, RI - Greenwich Odeum
06/13 North Turo, MA - Payomet Performing Arts Center
06/14 Riverhead, NY - The Suffolk Theater
06/18 Salisbury, MA - Blue Ocean Music Hall
06/19 Plymouth, NH - Flying Monkey Performance Center
06/20 Portland, ME - Aura
07/04 Enoch, AB - River Cree Casino & Resort
07/26 Paso Robles, CA - California Mid-State Fair w/ Eric Church *
08/07 Burnaby, BC - Burnaby Blues & Roots Fest
08/29 Shipshewana, IN - Blue Gate Theatre *
09/08-11 Big Indian, NY - Steve Earle's Camp Copperhead
11/16-20 Punta Cana, Dominican Republic - All The Best Fest *