A Little Bit of History Through Music
The songs on Harlan County USA are no exception. Some of the most important strides in the history of the labor movement have arisen out of America's coal mines. Conversely, some of the most compelling stories of survival and overcoming adversity lie in the history of coal mining in this country and around the world.
Sing It, Sister!
Some highlights include Hazel Dickens' "Black Lung," Sarah Ogan Gunning's "Come All You Coal Miners," and Florence Reece's "Which Side Are You On?"
What's so powerful about these performances is that you can just imagine the women of the coal miner culture singing out for the sake of their husbands and children, which is different from hearing someone sing for their self. It's perhaps more passionate and mournful than frustrated and angry.
Nostalgia With a Purpose
There is an element of this record that's paying tribute to the folks throughout history that have gone deep into the earth to mine coal; but there's also an element of timeliness here.
After all, miners have been getting trapped in mines at an alarming rate in the last year. It's become clear that some measures need to be taken to ensure the safety of our nation's coal miners, and this historical introduction to the plight of the coal worker is nothing if not poignantly well-timed.
The Bottom Line
The songs on this record hold nothing back and leave little to the imagination. If you're not sympathetic to the coal miners' struggle before you listen to this record, you will be by the time you're through.
Harlan County encompasses one of the most powerful and purposeful labor struggles in American history, with a collection of some of the most important contributors to American folk music.