Country star Kathy Mattea shares coal heritage in songWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Kathy Mattea started digging into her family’s West Virginia history, she unearthed a load of Appalachian mining songs.
“When ‘Coal’ came out [in 2008], in order to do that album, I wound up exploring all this music that I grew up hearing, kind of in the background, but there was nobody to teach me about it when I was young,” she said.
“So it was like going back and picking up a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, and it was so rich and so fun that I just wanted to keep going.”
Released last September, “Calling Me Home” finds the singer again paying tribute to her roots with more mountain music.
The Grammy winner grew up in Cross Lanes, W. Va. Both of her grandfathers were coal miners; her father was able to forgo the mine and attend college thanks to an uncle who owned a hardware store, Mattea said during a call from her Nashville, Tenn., home.
“I always thought of coal mining as my mom and dad’s story, but not my story — until I made ‘Coal,’” she said. “I’ve realized that even though I was born a generation removed, coal was still my story as well, and I just couldn’t see how influenced my life was from coal even though my dad wasn’t a coal miner.”
It was the 2006 Sago Mine disaster that killed 12 in West Virginia that struck Mattea.
“I was really surprised by how much grief I was feeling, just visceral — I was bursting into tears for people I didn’t know,” she recalled.
A musician friend suggested she channel that emotion into music. Her search for songs was fueled by a unifying element: coal.
“Someone said to me this process has got to be really different than what it used to be for you; now you’re more like an archivist. And it’s true,” Mattea said. “I kind of go everywhere. I talk to people who know this music. One song I found sitting on a porch late at night near Asheville, N.C., in a jam session.
“You just kind of keep your ears open as you’re walking through your life,” she said. “It’s like turning over a whole lot of rocks, but it’s really fun.”
Twice named Female Vocalist of the Year by the Country Music Association, Mattea has charted with nearly 30 hits, including “Love at the Five and Dime,” “455 Rocket,” “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses,” “Goin’ Gone,” “Come From the Heart,” “Burnin’ Old Memories,” “Lonesome Standard Time” and “Where’ve You Been,” which was co-written by her husband, Jon Vezner.
Mattea will perform some of her best-known songs as well as tracks from “Coal” and “Calling Me Home” at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at Monroe County Community College’s La-Z-Boy Center Meyer Theater. Tickets are $25 and $35 for VIP seating.
“The songs I’m best known for have a certain kind of truth to them, and my biggest success is with [‘Where’ve You Been’] that my husband wrote about his grandparents. That was just a moment of digging into his own life for something that was really meaningful and it really resonated with a lot of people.
“And it really wasn’t written to be a commercial song; he didn’t even know if anybody would record it, let alone if it would ever get on the radio,” Mattea said. “I think for him and for me both, that we got to have that success and sort of make our mark, our biggest moment in the music business with a collaboration together, that was a very, very sweet thing.”