Singer/songwriter Irene Kelley travels through her past on a musical journey with Pennsylvania Coal. The stage is set visually with a photo on the back of the CD of her coal-mining grandfather (to whom she pays tribute) and other miners at the mouth of the Crabtree, Pa., coal mine. Characters spring to life in the title track as Kelley sings about the rugged life of her first generation ancestors: My grandpa worked the mine, and then he worked the farm/Eight hours in the dark, six hours in the sun. The story weaves forward through successive generations with the remaining 11 tracks including “My Flower,” “Rattlesnake Rattler,” “Better With Time,” and “Sister’s Heart.”
A longtime Nashville songwriter, Kelley has penned songs that have been recorded by Alan Jackson, Loretta Lynn, Rhonda Vincent, Trisha Yearwood, and Claire Lynch, along with other country and bluegrass artists. She wrote the CMA Award-winning single for Ricky Skaggs & Sharon White, “Love Can’t Ever Get Better Than This.” As a singer, Kelley released the critically-praised Simple Path and Thunderbird.
For her first new collection of music in more than a decade, she invited special guests to sing background vocals, including Dale Ann Bradley, Steve Gulley, Lynch, Yearwood, Darrin Vincent, Rhonda Vincent, and Carl Jackson. Grammy Award-winner Mark Fain from Ricky Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder band produced the project. He also lent his bass skills in the studio, along with Bryan Sutton (guitar), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), and Adam Steffey (mandolin), to name a few. Kelley also made it a family affair with her daughters Justyna and Sara Jean, following admirably in their mother’s footsteps, especially with their incredible singing on the bonus track “You Are Mine.” Pennsylvania Coal isn’t a diamond in the rough. It’s a polished jewel. (www.irenekelley.com.)BC