Steve Earle & The Dukes will release a new project on New West Records in May. The new 10-song album, titled Ghosts of West Virginia, will release May 22 and marks Earle’s 20th studio album. The project was produced by Earle and engineered by Ray Kennedy at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in New York City.
The album features Chris Masterson on guitar, Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle and vocals, Ricky Ray Jackson on pedal steel, guitar & dobro, Brad Pemberton on drums and percussion, and Jeff Hill on acoustic and electric bass.
Ghosts of West Virginia centers on the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion that killed 29 men in that state in 2010. 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.
Playwrights Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank approached Earle as they were working on a theater piece, Coal Country, based on the events. They interviewed surviving miners, as well as families of miners who died, and crafted monologues for characters using those conversations. Earle was also onstage during the entire play, performing seven of the songs included on Ghosts of West Virginia. The play opened on March 3, but then the production was postponed indefinitely due to restrictions and safety concerns surrounding COVID-19.
Earle, who believes in ending fossil fuels and relying more on sustainable energy sources, wanted to make an album that addresses a different audience.
“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.”
Steve Earle Ghosts of West Virginia Track Listing:
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