The music on this CD grew out of rich Kentucky ground. We’ve a long tradition here of making our own songs when we need them: when miners fought for the right to organize in the 1930s, and later when Kentuckians demanded controls
on surface mining and an end to the Broad Form Deed.
We need them again, and the songs are coming, some of them collected here. The musical styles are as diverse as Kentucky, and we think you will enjoy the songs. But we have another purpose: to tell the truth about mountaintop removal mining in Kentucky.
The coal industry spends a great deal of money trying to convince us that the people who question this mining method are “environmental extremists” — emotional, impractical, not to be taken seriously. The coal industry claims to have the facts on its side. We invite you to study the matter for yourself. The evidence is there—in government and scientific studies, in aerial photographs, in the testimonies of coalfield residents, and in many communities in Eastern Kentucky — right before your very eyes.
Contrary to coal industry claims, most of the barren stone-scapes left after mountaintop removal will never be scenes of residential, commercial or recreational activity. As for providing jobs, mountaintop removal depends more on machines and explosives than on the labor of miners. As mountaintop removal has come to dominate the industry, the number of coal jobs in Eastern
Kentucky has dropped by more than half.
Mountaintop removal clear-cuts the forests, discards the trees and precious topsoil, blasts off the mountaintops to expose the coal, then pushes the overburden — tons of exploded rock — into the valleys and streams below, destroying more forests, burying all aquatic life, causing flooding downstream, and releasing toxins into the headwaters of the Kentucky, Cumberland,
Big Sandy and Licking Rivers, sources of drinking water, jobs, and recreation for much of the state.
Coalfield residents who live near mining sites live with ubiquitous dust, speeding overloaded coal trucks, and constant blasting, which disturbs sleep, cracks foundations and ruins water wells. But as Kentuckians, all of us experience the negative effects of mountaintop removal mining—in the losses to our environment, our economy, and our future. If mountaintop removal is allowed to continue, these losses will only multiply.
Across the state, Kentuckians are rising up and speaking out against this destructive practice. Please join us. Find out more about mountaintop removal. Read the Missing Mountains anthology and Erik Reece’s Lost Mountain. Write letters to the editor. Lean on legislators. Use less electricity. Elect people who put people before profit. Join Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. The Kentuckians on this record are raising their voices. Raise yours, too.
And sing along.
1. High Up On the Mountaintop, (2:50)
© Brett Ratliff, Words and music by Brett Ratliff. Brett Ratliff, vocals.
Coming from several generations of Johnson County coal miners, Brett Ratliff wrote High Up On the Mountaintop “to convey the hardships of a miner’s life in a historical context, which isn’t much different than today. I included much of the experiences I witnessed in my own family, as well as stories I have heard about my grandparents and their siblings.” He currently lives in Morehead and plays with the Clack Mountain String Band.
2. East Kentucky Water, (2:41)
© The Betweeners (BMI), Words and music by Stephen Couch. Performed by The Betweeners: Stephen Couch, lead vocals, mandolin; Eddie Green, harmony vocals, guitar; Owen Reynolds, bass; Curt Wilson, banjo; Michael Cleveland, fiddle.
Stephen Couch based East Kentucky Water on his childhood in Big Willard, Kentucky: “At first I was just playing with the idea, why do people talk about Mexico’s water supply but not Eastern Kentucky’s? But as I went through the process of writing the song I couldn’t help but deal with the mines and what they did to our water.”
3. The Taking, (2:41)
© Reel World String Band
Words and music by Bev Futrell. Performed by Reel World String Band: Bev Futrell, lead vocals, guitar; Karen Jones, harmony vocals, fiddle; Sue Massek, harmony vocals, banjo; Elise Melrood, piano; Sharon Ruble, bass.
Bev Futrell wrote The Taking in after listening to a group of lawyers arguing about what constitutes a “taking.” “Mountaintop removal,” she adds, “is the ultimate in the taking of our mountains, streams, and forests — Our Home.”
4. Just A Mountain, (2:49)
© George Ella Lyon, Words and music by George Ella Lyon.
George Ella Lyon, vocals, guitar; Steve Lyon, keyboard.
Harlan County native George Ella Lyon says Just A Mountain “began singing itself” to her as she drove over Clinch Mountain one day, “still reeling from what I had seen and heard on the mountaintop removal tour and looking for a way to express it.”
5. Can’t Put It Back, (2:49)
© Kate Larken (ASCAP) Kiss Me Quick Music
Words and music by Kate Larken. Kate Larken, vocals, guitar.
Kentuckian Kate Larken wrote Can’t Put It Back while living in the coalfields of southwest Virginia. “I traveled frequently through a site where they were blasting out a hilltop to make a prison on one side of the road and a strip job on the other. Over the months I watched as they decimated those living hills. It’s an ugly thing to witness—like watching an autopsy.”
6.Which Side Are You On Now? (3:29)
© Silas House & Jason Howard, Words by Silas House and Jason Howard, after Which Side Are You On? words by Florence Reece, set to an old hymn tune. Silas House, lead vocals; Jason Howard, autoharp, vocals; Jesse Wells, fiddle; Kate Larken, Fred Brown, Anne Shelby, Lora Smith, Jerry Hardt, additional vocals.
Southeastern Kentuckians Silas House and Jason Howard wrote the lyrics to this song “in about half an hour late one night when we were just absolutely fed up and disgusted after viewing some mountaintop removal sites in Leslie County. The words came out of nowhere, as if whispered to us.”
7. Now Is the Cool of the Day, (2:26)
© Jean Ritchie, Geordie Music Publishing Co. Used with permission.
Words and music by Jean Ritchie. Jean Ritchie, vocals.
Jean Ritchie, a native of Viper, Kentucky, once called Now Is the Cool of the Day her “favorite of my written songs. It’s just about God walking in his garden in the cool of the day, and how we should be good stewards of the earth.”
8. All That We Have, (4:40)
© Anne Shelby, Words and music by Anne Shelby. Anne Shelby, lead vocals; Kate Larken, guitar, harmony vocals; Jason Howard, autoharp, harmony vocals; Silas House, additional vocals.
Anne Shelby lives on a hillside farm in Clay County, where her family has lived for generations. She wrote All That We Have after coming home from a mountaintop removal tour. “I’d seen places like my own place blown away, scraped off, reduced to rubble. My heartsickness came out in the song.”
9.Mountain Blood, (3:55)
© Ford MacNeill
Words and music by Ford MacNeill.
Ford MacNeill, vocals, guitar; Melodie Past, vocals; Jesse Wells, fiddle.
Self-described “native mountaineer” Ford MacNeill wrote Mountain Blood at Hindman, Kentucky, in Knott County, during a KFTC-sponsored mountaintop removal tour.
10. Shall We Tear These Mountains Down? (3:10)
© Fred Brown & Tim Gilliam
Words by Fred Brown, music by Tim Gilliam.
Tim Gilliam, vocals, guitar; Jesse Wells, banjo.
Fred Brown and Tim Gilliam are both Rowan County natives. Fred wrote the song at the Hindman Settlement School, finishing at the chapel near James Still’s grave. Tim put it to music and recorded at the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music in Morehead.
11. Coal Harbor Bend, (3:46)
Performed by Clack Mountain String Band: Brett Ratliff, banjo; Jesse Wells, fiddle, mandolin; Karly Dawn Higgins, guitar; J.T. Cure, upright bass.
Traditional East Kentucky fiddle tune.
12. I’m On My Way, (1:44)
© Randy Wilson
Traditional spiritual, additional lyrics by Randy Wilson. Randy Wilson, vocals.
Randy Wilson, who lives in Leslie County, reminds us that “spirituals have always been borrowed and worked over. I just added the little verse about finding another way to light this old world, something hopeful, pointing to the future, a future that is sure to come. Already the wheels are turning in search of renewable energy.”
Produced for Kentuckians For The Commonwealth