Although it seems hard for most of us to imagine, country music has not always sucked. In fact, from Americana mountain music to Patsy and Hank, up through George and Tammy and the earliest releases of Dolly and the Judds (yes, the Judds!)—country music was pretty damn cool. But, just like pop and rock, the 90’s saw the bastardization of the genre by corporations, and by the aughts, all of the originality had been sucked out of mainstream country music quicker than a toothless old hillbilly sucking down a jug of hooch.
Kathy Mattea burst on the scene in the ’80s and immediately won respect (she covered Nanci Griffith, after all), and peaked at the end of the decade with a string of top ten hits, the most memorable of which the catchy trucker love song, “18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses.” But, like many gifted songcrafters and singers of the genre, she, too, fell victim to the shallow tastes of the Redneck Revolution. In the years that followed, Mattea kept producing great material—going even more eclectic and folky, which was always the foundation of her style—but her penchant for introspective songs failed to woo additional country fans.
Last year, she decided to dig deeper into her Scottish/Welsh/West Virginian roots and released Coal—a collection of classic mining songs by the likes of Merle Travis and Jean Ritchie, arranged acoustically by Mattea and produced by Marty Stuart. It’s an album of raw, beautiful, understated tales of sorrow and woe—not quite the wanky world of trucks, beer and cheatin’ fiends preferred by today’s country lovers, and we just respect her all the more for it. (Stacy Davies)
Kathy Mattea at the University Theatre, UC Riverside, 900 University Ave., Riverside, (951) 827- 4331; www.culturalevents.ucr.edu. Fri., Mar. 27, 8PM; $20-$40