mercoledì 9 luglio 2014


We call a collection of songs an "album," and never has the term been more apt than in Irene Kelley's new bluegrass powerhouse, "Pennsylvania Coal." It's like leafing through the generations of a family photo album, while Kelley lovingly fills in the details and fleshes out the characters.One photo is literal. On the back cover is a 100-year-old shot taken at the mouth of the Crabtree, Pennsylvania coalmine, and among the miners is Kelley's grandfather. Her title song is both centerpiece and fountainhead for the stories that follow. From this first-generation American tale of hardship and struggle comes the strength, hope and humility shown in the lives of succeeding generations.Kelley goes "back to her ('grass) roots" on this project. A bluegrass album with top bluegrass players has been on her "bucket list" since her days singing at the Bean Blossom and Clinch Mountain festivals in the 1980s. With seven-time Grammy winner (and longtime Ricky Skaggs bassist) Mark Fain producing, legendary pickers such as Stuart Duncan and Bryan Sutton, and a cast of singers including Rhonda Vincent, Claire Lynch and Trisha Yearwood, that dream has come true in a very big way.Not all the contributors are big names, though. Not yet anyway. Kelley's talented daughters Justyna and Sara Jean are all over "Pennsylvania Coal" as singers and co-writers, reinforcing family ties in songs where they are often enough part of the story.Kelley herself had an early start. At 19 she took offense to fellow 'grassers singing the praises of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, etc. and took it on herself to write a song defending the rural beauty of her native state. "Pennsylvania Is My Home" opened many doors, from a PBS documentary to a grassroots campaign for a Pennsylvania State Song senate bill, and eventually to Nashville, where she lives today. IRENE KELLEY

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