Elevate Difference

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.

Written by: Nicole Levitz, March 12th 2009

Anonymous's comment seems a bit personal to me. Not really sure they have heard the album!

Have to disagree. I've had this album since it came out last fall and have bought it for friends and family as a gift. Exquisite lyrics, pure mountain singing, beautiful harmonies, and fine musicianship.

But don't listen to me, ask Jim Lauderdale, Si Kahn, John McCutcheon, or Claire Lynch (Jeni & Billy did a fine job of opening for her back in December in Charlotte much to my delight).

I wish this duo all the luck and hope they don't have to fend off the uninformed comments of too many Anonymous folks like the one above.

Looking forward to their new album . . . mentioned on their Facebook page from time to time.

Actually, I don't at all agree with the review. I listened to this album and thought it was the phoniest sounding thing I'd heard in a long while. I think Jeni equates bad singing with having soul. It just doesn't work that way.

Thanks very much from Jeni & Billy to Nicole Levitz for this review. We appreciated your perspective from outside of the the folk world and we were also grateful for the time that you spent with our music.Thanks also to #2581 for her/his comment above. We are honored to be in the company of the songwriters you mention. If you or anyone else would like to learn more about the stories behind the songs, you can read them by clicking the song titles on our "Listen" page at www.jeniandbilly.com.Thanks again for bringing our small corner of the world into the light through the review and the comment.Jeni & Billy

Jeni & Billy's lyrics are brilliant! I collect coal mining songs and have heard all of the great songs by Hazel Dickens, Merle Travis, Jean Ritchie, Billy Edd Wheeler, Ewan MacColl, Ed Pickford, etc., and Jeni & Billy don't suffer in comparison. I particularly like "Ain't Got Time for Trouble Blues", "Miner's Reward" and "Tazewell Beauty Queen". Highly recommended!