The raised voices accompanying the documentary Coal Country are familiar and persuasive.
Compiled on the accompanying Coal Country Music, they include folk and country giants from multiple generations, including Kentucky natives Jean Ritchie and Tom T. Hall, and Western Kentucky favorite son John Prine, who all but lived with strip-mining during his childhood in Muhlenberg County. There also were nationally visible artists including Gillian Welch and Natalie Merchant, who feel moved by the increasing public outcry over the mountaintop-removal coal-mining practices denounced in Coal Country.
A curious omission is Steve Earle, who publicly criticized mountaintop-removal mining at a performance in Lexington over the summer. But son Justin Townes Earle's roots-country-blues reading of Down in the Valley is a suitable stand-in. Valley is one of Coal Country Music's few exclusive tunes. Others include Beat on the Mountain, a wonderfully plain-spoken mining portrait that is the first new studio music from Jason and the Scorchers in more than 13 years (a full album is due next year), and an attractively low-fi home recording of Willie Nelson singing Blowin' in the Wind.
Much of the album's remaining tunes are thematically appropriate but are pulled from years-old and, sometimes, decades-old recordings. Still, there are surprises, including Ralph Stanley's ghostly reading of Keys to the Kingdom with the Cedar Hill Refugees, an ensemble that merges American and Uzbek mountain-music traditions. The song is sobering proof that it might take enormous force to move a mountain, but a greater might is required to leave it alone.
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The film Coal Country is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. Saturday on the Planet Green TV network, Channel 221 on Lexington's Insight cable TV lineup.