Steve Earle & The Dukes will release Ghosts of West Virginia on May 22nd, 2020 via New West Records. In support of Independent Retailers, Earle has announced a virtual in-store performance for Friday, March 15th at 8pm Eastern. The private, solo performance will be pre-recorded from Grimey’s Records in Nashville, TN. Earle stated, "Now is the time for artists to step up and support indie stores who have supported them — in any way we can."
Fans are encouraged to support their local record store by pre-ordering a copy of the album on CD, LP, or Limited Edition “Yellow & Blue West Virginia Swirl” Colored Vinyl available exclusively at Independent Retail (While Supplies Last). Each pre-order guarantees a copy of the album that will be shipped to arrive on or before the May 22nd release date and a ticket to view the virtual in-store that will go live on May 15th. Fans are advised to contact their local record store and/or check their socials to pre-order the album directly. 100% of the ticket price for the Virtual In-Store performance will benefit the Independent Retailer. Fans who have previously pre-ordered Ghosts of West Virginia can purchase a standalone Virtual In-Store Ticket HERE with 100% of those funds equally allocated to all participating retailers.
Ghosts of West Virginia centers on the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion that killed twenty-nine men in that state in 2010, making it one of the worst mining disasters in American history. Earle started working on the album after being approached by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, a playwright team that would create Coal Country, a play with music about the disaster. They interviewed the surviving West Virginia miners, along with the families of the miners who died, and created monologues for their characters using those words.
Working closely with Oskar Eustis, the Public Theater’s Artistic Director, they workshopped the songs and text for nearly four years. Earle was on stage for the entire play and performed seven of the songs that lead Ghosts of West Virginia, providing personal, historical and social context for the testimony of the play’s characters. Opening to critical acclaim on March 3rd, the production was postponed after only two weeks due to COVID-19. It was recently announced that Earle has received a nomination in the “Outstanding Music in a Play” category for the 65th Annual Drama Desk Awards. Jessica Blank also received an “Outstanding Director” Nomination as well. The Drama Desk Awards ceremony will take place virtually this year on Sunday, May 31st.
In ten deftly drawn, powerfully conveyed sonic portraits, Earle explores the historical role of coal in rural communities. With Ghosts of West Virginia, Earle says that he was interested in exploring a new approach to his songwriting. “I’ve already made the preaching-to-the-choir album,” he says, specifically alluding to his 2004 Grammy Award winning The Revolution Starts...Now. As anyone politically attuned as Earle understands, there are times when the faithful need music that will raise their spirits and toughen their resolve. But he came to believe that our times might also benefit from something that addresses a different audience, songs written from a point of view that he is particularly capable of rendering.
Democracy Now! premiered the song “Union, God and Country” on today’s broadcast. Earle told the show, “West Virginia was the most unionized place in America until very recently. Upper Big Branch was the first non-union mine on that mountain — and it blew up and killed 29 men. This is a song about better days.” Democracy Now! is a daily independent news hour hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez and is available on Pacifica, NPR, community, college and satellite radio stations, on PBS, public, community and satellite TV; and viewed by millions of people online each day. Hear Steve Earle’s “Union, God and Country” HERE.
Mother Jones previously premiered the powerful “It’s About Blood” in which Earle blazons the names of all the men who died. Mother Jones says of Ghosts of West Virginia, “It’s a ghostly cycle—infused with Earle’s eclectic blend of country, folk, rock, blues, and roots music—about extraction, exploitation, mining life, and death. And in the song ‘It’s About Blood,” Earle names the dead—literally. He contrasts the subterranean grit of the miners with the financial gains of the company: ‘Don’t want to hear about the state of the economy / Fiscal reality, profit and loss / None of that matters when you’re underground anyway / Damn sure can’t tell me nothin’ ‘bout cost.” Hear the powerful “It’s About Blood” Here. Rolling Stone Country previously premiered the first single, “Devil Put the Coal in the Ground.” They called the song “...thrilling and anxiety-ridden all at once.” Hear it HERE. SPIN also previously premiered the song “John Henry Was A Steel Drivin’ Man” which can be heard HERE.
To be sure, Earle’s politics have not changed. He believes in sustainable energy sources and ending fossil fuels. “But that doesn’t mean a thing in West Virginia,” he says. You can’t begin communicating with people unless you understand the texture of their lives, the realities that provide significance to their days. That is the entire point of Ghosts of West Virginia.
“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.” Speaking to SPIN, Earle said “I think what’s killing this country more than anything else — coronavirus notwithstanding — is a virus borne of us not understanding each other, and not understanding what we have in common.”
Steve Earle’s Ghosts of West Virginia will be available across digital retailers, on compact disc, and standard black vinyl. A limited Yellow & Blue West Virginia Swirl colored LP edition will be available at Independent Retailers. An extremely limited to 500 Smoke/Coal Colored Vinyl Edition autographed by Steve Earle is available for pre-order now via NEW WEST RECORDS.