This could have been just one more example of a contemporary country artist tapping into the traditional country vein, a career tactic that has been explored nearly to the point of revulsion in the post-"O Brother, Where Art Thou" world. But Kathy Mattea would have none of that.
Mattea, who calls herself a "child of coal" in the album's liner notes, really has a feel for these mining songs, having grown up in West Virginia where the mines were a way of life - and death for many people who had starring roles in her youth. So, the disc becomes much more than a throwback or rehash because of the sincerity and emotion she brings to it.
Plus Mattea is still one of the genre's most dynamic and expressive vocalists. She uses that instrument to bring the listener down into the mines to share the experiences to be found there. Nowhere is that evident more than on her a capella rendering of "Black Lung." There also is much to like about the instrumentation of Marty Stuart, who it seems, plays two or more instruments on every cut.
Mattea has crafted a moving slice of life disc that can be enjoyed on a variety of levels by people who have never even seen a lump of "Coal," and that is perhaps the strongest part of her effort here.