Of all the sedimentary rocks, it seems only fitting that coal would be the inspiration for so many country songs, especially the music coming out of the the mining regions of the country.
There's enough to respectably fill a whole Holler playlist: Jimmy Dean's 'Big Bad John', Nancy and Lee's 'Arkansas Coal (Suite)', Loretta Lynn's 'Coal Miner's Daughter', John Prine's 'Paradise' and more recently Sturgill Simpson's 'Old King Coal' and Charles Wesley Godwin's 'Coal Country'. Steve Earle even wrote a whole musical inspired by it!
Born in Kentucky and raised in Comfort, West Virginia, 19-year-old country-folk singer Logan Halstead has added his own to that list and slowly turning heads ever since he first released ‘Dark Black Coal’ on YouTube way back in 2020. It's no surprise that those heads seem to be turning a little faster and lot more frequently these days.
Written when he was just 15 years old, his haunting, world-weary depiction of the struggles of the small-town coal mining community he’d grown up in belied his teenage years. Two years later, and with 6 million more views clocked since it first appeared, that same song is now the title track to his debut full length album, released this month in partnership with Thirty Tigers.
Drawing his influence from artists like Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson, his stark Appalachian folk songs feel like old cobweb covered paintings that you'd find stacked up under a dust sheet in an attic. Strange and unfamiliar at first, the longer you look at them, the more they draw you in, until you feel like you’re almost living inside them.
Recorded at the infamous Sound Emporium in Nashville, Halstead worked alongside revered producer Lawrence Rothman (Amanda Shires, Margo Price, Angel Olsen) and was accompanied by an all-star band.
Halstead penned nine of the 11 tracks on the album, and two covers – ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ by Richard Thompson and ‘The Flood’ by Cole Cheney – round out the record.
There’s an unnerving delicacy to the sound and an almost ghostly brittleness to some of the instrumentation. Halstead’s voice sounds like it’s been dragged up from the underworld, raw and unrefined; a strange mix of fragility and raging angst.
“Logan’s songs are far older than he is,” says Rothman. “His voice hit my heart muscle hard, there is so much living in the resonance of his singing but so much youth at the same time.”
These are songs that highlight the singer’s life growing up in a region of Appalachia known only for its coal mines, severe poverty and being one of the many small towns deeply affected by the opioid epidemic. Sometimes darkly comic (‘Man’s Gotta Eat’) and sometimes just straight up dark (‘Uneven Ground’), there are little cracks of light that Halstead allows in that somehow sound even more beautiful coming out of the pitch black.
“Looking out through my window watching the snowflakes fall,” he sings on ‘Kentucky Sky’, “A redbird sits on a fence post / Such beauty from a creature so small.”
We’re honoured to be exclusively premiering the album in its entirety on Holler.
Logan Halstead spoke to Holler exclusively about the songs on the new album.
‘Good Ol’ Boys with Bad Names’
"I got the idea to write 'Good Ol’ Boys with Bad Names' after a friend of mine said that phrase one night. It stuck to me like glue, I sat down and thought of what we grew up around and came up with this one."
“This is a cover we got to put on the album straight from Mr Cole Chaney himself. Cole is an excellent songwriter, and a good friend of mine. He offered for me to cover ‘The Flood’ for my debut album, and I had to take him up on it.”
‘Man's Gotta Eat’
"This one always makes me laugh, and it should make you too. That being said, this song is deeper than that, with underlying truths about the opioid epidemic and stealing copper. This one is about a grind that I hope many of y'all don't have to see or go through but... a man's gotta eat."
‘Dark Black Coal’
"This was the first song I was ever proud of. I thought of the sacrifices my family and many others have made for coal. The message isn't anything groundbreaking, if you grew up with relatives that were miners they've probably told you once, twice or a dozen times not to do what they do: ‘Just don't let my children become the victims of the mountain's evil ways.’"
“’Mountain Queen’ is left up for interpretation, it can be a love song to your significant other, but to me it’s a love song to home.”
"I was picking around in the kitchen looking out the window and saw two cardinals playing on the fence out back. I sat down and wrote the first couple of lines and it all just came together. I thought back to a summer in Crittenden, Kentucky where there were rolling hills and cow pastures. It seemed like the sun never wanted to set there. That's how I came up with the title."
Far From Here
"This is another one of my low down songs. When you’re down and out and can’t think of any other way."
"’Coal River’ is a sort of ballad I wrote about Boone County, and it relates all around Appalachia. For generations our families have gave their life to the mines. It ties in with 'Dark Black Coal' as a warning call to all the kids like me."
‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’
“This song has been around a while before I was even on this earth, and covered by many artists. I love songs that lay out a full story, almost as if you’re reading a book, and I don’t know many others that do it like this one. I gotta thank Cole Chaney again for putting me onto the Del McCoury version, and making me fall in love with this song.”
“This is one of my darker songs. It lays out the feelings of depression and trying what you can to drown out those feelings. I started writing this one and knew it’d be perfect to have Arlo McKinley on the track.”
“Bluefoot is my feel-good song. It could make sense to you; it could also sound like I’m just rambling random words over a chord progression. That’s another one up for interpretation!”
Dark Black Coal is released on May 5th via Thirty Tigers. Logan Halstead’s tour continues May 4th in Nashville, Tennessee. Click here to listen and buy.