Nashville veteran Kathy Mattea has a new record hitting the streets on Sept. 11, titled Calling Me Home (Sugar Hill Records). Now I’ll admit to having a long-time anti-Nashville bias in my musical tastes, as evidenced by the kind of releases I cover here on Fiddlefreak. But if a singer had total access to the deepest reaches of my fiddle-addled brain, they could not have done a better job of getting my attention. From her choice of material (my favorite singer-songwriters) to her sidemen (all the best) to her unifying themes (West Virginia and the love of her land), Calling Me Home pushes all the right buttons. Myself, my father, and my father’s father — all born in West Virginia. Hell, my mother’s name was Kathy! Gotta love it.
Here’s why. Songs written by Laurie Lewis (two!) and Jean Ritchie (three!) as well as Si Kahn, Hazel Dickens, and Alice Gerrard. Accompaniment by a crack band that included Stuart Duncan and Bryan Sutton. Harmony vocals by Tim and Mollie O’Brien, Tim Eriksen (Cold Mountain), Emmylou Harris, Aoife O’Donovan (Crooked Still), Sarah Dugas (The Duhks), and Alison Krauss, among others. Stories about coal, mountains, wildlife, home, and the Creator. About proud, independent Mountaineers who understand a way of life that’s inseparable from the land and its resources. And a voice that aches with empathy for the green rolling hills and cool clear streams that have suffered unforgivable insult over the years. Kathy Mattea gets it. No surprise there… she’s a Mountaineer too.
Even the liner notes shine. Respected Kentucky author Barbara Kingsolver penned an essay that fits the music like a glove. Here’s an excerpt.
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.
LISTEN: Hello, My Name is Coal
LISTEN: Calling Me Home