Jewell Ridge Coal
As someone with a very limited knowledge of folk music, I found Jeni & Billy’s second album Jewell Ridge Coal to be like Billy Elliot meets the Mamas and the Papas meets Dolly Parton. A little bit bluegrass, a little bit folk, and all original, the music feels simultaneously familiar and completely new.
Acoustic duo Jeni Hankins and Billy Kemp’s unique sound is not only easy to listen to, it creates an atmosphere. Jeni’s roots, born in the coalfields of Southwest Virginia, must have more than a little something to do with their choice of subject matter for the album: the Southwest Virginia coal mining community of Jewell Ridge.
Each track tells its own aspect of the story of this town. Opening with the miner’s tale on track one and covering everything from a union’s anthem, to a drug addict’s tragedy, to marital woes, we see all sides of life in a far-off place. My favorite song, not surprisingly, is the title track. It typifies their sound and is the best use of instrumentation in story telling on the album. Most importantly, it demonstrates how effectively Jeni and Billy’s voices compliment each other.
Theoretically, if you heard Jeni and Billy sing separately you would probably not assume their voices would mesh well but in fact it is the intermingling of their vocals that makes this album for me. Each exemplifying somewhat stereotypical folk tones, their combination creates this powerful and unique flavor, and they sound so natural together, it feels calming and clear. Its as if you were there sitting on a back porch in old-timey South and they were right there with you and just stumbled upon some instruments.
Taking the trip down South with Jeni and Billy to a time gone by is well worth the journey, and I am quite sure you will not only learn a little about Jewell Ridge but also about yourself.