Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mattea's Coal

When Malcolm was reviewing his recent thoughts (they were mainly concerned with Charlie Connelly and the Shipping Forecast: see Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service), he had aural improvement by courtesy of Kathy Mattea.

This reminded him that her new album, Coal, is due out on 1st April. Meanwhile it has one of the best taster sites Malcolm has yet encountered. on the Net. The album is already turning up on the dodgier by-ways of the Internet. Not, of course, that Malcolm would venture there. Oh, no.

The (ahem!) prospect of that album, from that artist, cheers Malcolm no end.

The website links to three excellent pieces, each and all of which is/are better than any appreciation Malcolm can offer.

First up is an interview from National Public Radio's Living on Earth. It streams beautifully, unlike too many. Apart from the usual promotional stuff, Mattea addresses, forcefully, eco-issues. She invites us to imagine, each time we switch on a light, it means blowing the top off a mountain in the coal country.

There is a link to clips of an emotional Mattea speaking against strip mining, and other voices explaining the social and personal implications of these uncontrolled mining operations. YouTube has a further clip of Mattea (over the background noise of a drenching thunder-storm). .

Then an article, by Ben Salmon, from the Bend, OR, Bulletin, begins with an interesting challenge:
Here’s a depressing little exercise for you to try:
Hop on the Internet, visit Google Maps, and search for “Danville, W.Va.” Once you’re in Danville, click over to “Satellite” view and zoom out a little bit.

See that giant, grayish area west of town? That’s where a coal-extraction company has blown off the top of a mountain to make its job easier. [see also sample image, right]

Now, zoom out more, and follow the trail of grayish spots that pockmark the rolling, green hills of the Appalachian Mountains to the southwest of Danville, extending across West Virginia and into eastern Kentucky.

Every one of those spots represents what used to be a mountain. The mountains are now flat, thanks to the extraction method known as mountaintop removal.
Now that is effective in so many ways. It makes its point effectively, especially if one follows the instructions (as Malcolm did). It links to the theme of Mattea's album. And it has a special meaning in the context of Bend, OR, the opposite side of the continent to Appalachia.

So, let Malcolm take us to the City of Bend, where central Oregon shades into the eastern High Desert country. It is one of the fastest growing communities in the nation; and on a brief, bright, early autumn visit Malcolm could appreciate why. And not just because of the city having a choice (Respect!) of two excellent breweries: the Deschutes Brewery and the Bend Brewery Company.

Bend started as a logging town, but now, too much of the usable timber already exploited, that is a minor employer: the old mills are now seriously up-market shopping. Instead Bend depends on tourism and recreation; and is the nearest thing in that part of the State to a commercial and business centre. The influx of retired people, mainly white and largely prosperous, makes Bend the most over-priced housing market in the US, and by some 79%; but has inspired Green activism:
By appealing thoughtless growth, advocating for smart planning policies and choices, and by informing and involving the communities we live in, they strive to ensure that as Central Oregon grows, its essential elements are not merely conserved, but that our quality of life is actually enhanced.
Compare that, as the Bend Bulletin does, to Danville, WV. One statistic says it all: median family income $26,000, way, way below the national average, and less than half that of Bend. West Virginia is coal: two-thirds of State revenue comes from the coal companies or coal-fired power plants. The other cost is near a score of miners' death each and every year: in 2006 it was 25. The mines inspectors clock 10,000 safety violations a year. The implications and complications are depicted in all its foulness by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition's website.

So that's the political aspect of Malcolm's interest in Mattea's new album. It also looks like being an interesting switch from her earlier style. We now get an acoustic, folky presentation: no more twangs and heavy bass. Even the image has changed, from the glam to the domestic. All in all, that little lot can't be bad. Sphere: Related Content


Anonymous said...

Hey there,

Wanted to let you know that your "article by Ben Salmon" link above the excerpt is broken. Looks like it's two URLs ( and the article URL) smashed together, therefore, it doesn't work.

That's all. Thought you'd like to know.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Thanks: my incompetence.

I think I've fixed the link by going back to the original, rather than using the .pdf on the Coal web-page.

The .pdf, though, is neater and prettier. It is accessible through -- or it is, right now, in my bit of the cybersphere.

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