'Dream of the Miner's Child' is dedicated to my Grandad (in the photo above) And that's my Mum in the other photo. The album has many special guests, including my band The Maybelles. I'm often asked 'What's an English girl doing in New York City playing country music?' I've set out to answer that question and tie together my Yorkshire roots, with the folk music and arts community I'm part of in America for the last twenty years. There are songs by emerging and established American and British songwriters; a couple of traditional folk songs; and a number of my own.
Music as a way of telling stories and bringing people together made a life long impact on me during the year long miners strike of 1984. I'd see big strapping men singing on the picket lines, even on a bitter cold morning. Billy Bragg played a rowdy room at a fundraiser, and when he launched into 'Between the Wars' (which I cover on the album), he brought us all around in one unified understanding. Grandad went down the mine as a teenager, and had worked there forty five years at the time of the strike. There are songs about him and village life on the album.
There are many special guests on this recording: Melissa Carper (co-founder of The Maybelles) and her Austin,Texas band The Carper Family. Folks I've been playing with a few years now: Jolie Holland, Samantha Parton (of The Be Good Tanyas), Rima Fand (Luminescent Orchestrii), Will Scott, Megan Palmer,, Philippa Thompson and Hilary Hawke. Friends from the road include Truckstop Honeymoon, Salty Pink, Casey Neill, and fellow English woman Juliet Russell, who leads mass choirs, and works wonders on an old Celtic ballad on the album. I'm also joined on a song about a Birmingham coal miner (which could be set in England as easily as Alabama), by one of my heroes, the legendary Alice Gerrard.
As a fan of Loretta Lynn, I was led to the songs of Jean Ritchie who in turn led me to stories about 'Coal Mining Diva' Aunt Molly Jackson, (who I wrote a song about using her words from a letter she sent to Sing Out! folk magazine). When I heard songs by Hazel and Alice I felt right at home in the stories they told.
I'm often drawn to songs that turn out to be written by folks from Kentucky coal miner stock, such as "You'll never leave Harlan Alive" by Darrell Scott, which The Maybelles often play. That song hits home and echoes the life of a Yorkshire family as well. I've learned that throughout Appalachia, folks have ancestors who migrated to America from northern England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
Many songs traveled with them, such as the title track which started life in South Wales in 1907. Following an accident where over 100 miner's perished "Don't Go Down in the Mines, Dad" was penned by Welshmen Robert Donnelly and Will Geddes. It was "recomposed" by the blind Alabama Evangelist Rev. Andrew Jenkins, in 1925. Later that year Vernon Dalhart recorded it as 'Dream of the Miner's Child'. Its since been covered by Ralph Stanley, and Doc Watson among others. You can find out more about the history of this song in Archie Green's landmark dissertation Only a Miner.
Following such mining disasters many Welsh miner's - including Grandad Williams family went across the Pennine Mountains to South Yorkshire. The word was that the Fitzwilliam family there, owned and operated the safest pits in the country. Songs from the 'Land of Poet's and Singers' as Wales is known, were now venturing across the Atlantic as well.
Maybe growing up in Yorkshire is what sets Jan Bell apart from the run of local lady folkies. Or maybe its the slide guitars, harmonicas, mandolins and banjos. Dark, old timey spareness......Gorgeous - Chuck Eddy as Senior Editor, VILLAGE VOICE.
Produced and engineered by Jason Mercer at Stoop Sale Recordings. Mixed at Saltlands in DUMBO, NYC. (Several Guest engineers around the country as well). Jason has worked with Ani Difranco, Ron Sexsmith, Rick Moranis, BareNaked Ladies, Tony Scherr, Jesse Harris. He lives and works in Brooklyn, playing music and recording with Matt Keating, Jenifer Jackson, Annie Keating, Mike Ferrio, Jack Grace, Clarence Bucaro, Mary and The Strays, and Ana Egge.
- (45 days)