Coal (Kathy Mattea album)

Coal is an album by American country music singer Kathy Mattea, released on April 1, 2008 in the United States on her own label, Captain Potato Records. The album consists of 11 covers of classic coal mining songs by artists such as Merle Travis and Hazel Dickens.

Studio album by
ReleasedApril 1, 2008 (2008-04-01)
GenreCountry, bluegrass
LabelCaptain Potato, Thirty Tigers
ProducerMarty Stuart
Kathy Mattea chronology
Right Out of Nowhere
Calling Me Home


Mattea's decision to make an album about this topic was influenced by the fact that both of her grandfathers were miners, as well as by the Sago Mine disaster in 2006,[1] which, when it occurred, reminded Mattea of the Farmington Mine disaster that had occurred when she was nine years old. She has said that she was expecting a set of stories in the songs she covered on this album, but instead found a connection to her miner ancestors. Her deep interest in this topic was also noted by the album's producer, Marty Stuart,[2] as when they were recording the a cappella song "Black Lung". Stuart said it would be like "trying to repaint the 'Mona Lisa'", in that it requires authentic commitment to the task. Mattea also stated that it was so difficult for her to learn the song that it took her six months to do so.[2] Nevertheless, the first recording of Mattea's version of the song ended up being kept after it made the recording engineer, whose father had died of black lung disease, cry. Stuart reacted by telling Mattea that this was a sign she was performing the song right.[3]

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating     [5]
Allmusic     [1]
American Songwriter     [7]
Los Angeles Times    [9]
PopMatters          [8]
Robert Christgau  [6]
Slant Magazine     [4]

The album received several favorable reviews, including a perfect five stars from's Scott Sexton, who wrote that Mattea brings the album's songs to life and that "you can actually imagine all of these stories in your mind while she is singing."[5] In a more mixed review, Grant Alden wrote in No Depression that Coal was "a complicated conversation, one she seeks gently to engage all of us in," and praised her cover of "Red-Winged Black Bird" as the album's best song. He also criticized her treatment of "Coming of the Roads" as "prosaic" and wrote that she added nothing to the Merle Travis song "Dark as a Dungeon".[10]

In 2009, Country Universe named Coal #5 on their "The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade."[11]

Commercial performanceEdit

Coal topped the Bluegrass Albums Chart and was nominated for a Grammy Award.[12]

Track listingEdit

1."The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore"4:11
2."Blue Diamond Mines"4:59
3."Red-Winged Blackbird"2:53
4."Lawrence Jones"3:04
5."Green Rolling Hills"3:45
6."Coal Tattoo"3:17
7."Sally in the Garden"0:44
8."You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive"5:02
9."Dark as a Dungeon"4:34
10."Coming of the Roads"4:38
11."Black Lung/Coal"6:08
12."Bonus Tracks" 
13."Harlan, by Judith Edelman" 
Total length:43:15



Chart (2008) Peak
US Top Bluegrass Albums (Billboard)[13] 1
US Top Country Albums (Billboard)[14] 64


  1. ^ a b Leggett, Steve. "Coal Review". Allmusic. Retrieved 1 August 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b Mansfield, Brian (6 April 2008). "Kathy Mattea's 'Coal' fueled by an emotional kinship". USA Today. Retrieved 1 August 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Dickinson, Chrissie (18 April 2008). "Mattea's spare approach reveals coal mining's core". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 1 August 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ Keefe, Jonathan (31 March 2008). "Kathy Mattea: Coal". Slant. Retrieved 1 August 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b Sexton, Scott. "Coal Review". About Country Music. Retrieved 1 August 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Kathy Mattea". Consumer Guide. Retrieved 19 June 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ Bowen, Lizza Connor (1 May 2008). "Kathy Mattea: Coal". American Songwriter. Retrieved 1 August 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Horowitz, Steve (2 April 2008). "Kathy Mattea: Coal". PopMatters. Retrieved 1 August 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ Gleason, Holly (8 April 2008). "Ready to dance, but he's dancing alone". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 1 August 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ Alden, Grant (March–April 2008). "Burning questions". No Depression. Archived from the original on 8 August 2014. Retrieved 4 August 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ Coyne, Kevin John (10 December 2009). "The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Conclusion: #10-#1". Country Universe.
  12. ^ Dauphin, Chuck (13 September 2012). "Kathy Mattea Strips Away Old Habits on 'Calling Me Home'". Billboard. Retrieved 1 August 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ "Kathy Mattea Chart History (Top Bluegrass Albums)". Billboard.
  14. ^ "Kathy Mattea Chart History (Top Country Albums)". Billboard.