Cold Coal Town
Holstein has roots in West Virginia, but his latest release — easily one of the year’s finest country albums — is hiding in the dark corners of the internet. With a few clicks on Holstein’s Web site, you can order a CD copy of ”Cold Coal Town,” 11 bluegrass-tinted songs penned by Holstein and sung in a commanding baritone that practically stops time during the somber a cappella of “Black Water.” For fans who like to whine about the death of “real” country music, it’s time to put your PayPal password where your mouth is.
-Chris Richards WASHINGTON POST
First, you have to have a great song. Scott Holstein's got, not only one, but an album full! Then, you have to be able to SELL the song. This West Virginian definitely does that with these great performances from his lonesome-themed new CD, "Cold Coal Town". I hear Carter Stanley & Larry Sparks influences here. There's also an unmistakable Jamey Johnson, Waylon-esque quality to this stuff, and I believe either of those titans would have been right at home with these great songs. My personal favorites are "Roll Coal Roll," a lament that wonders how long the singer's truck will hold out & just where all that coal goes -that trucks, trains & boats haul, and the dark, brooding "Walls of Stone" that really gets the hair up on the back of my neck. Brilliant writing, great sounding tracks! Folks, there's a new singer/songwriter out there - his name is Scott Holstein and he is serving notice with this set of material that he's in here for the long haul. Buy this CD. You won't be sorry!
(Murder on Music Row, Highway 40 Blues...)
Scott Holstein was born in Boone County, in the heart of the coalfields of West Virginia, and he has chosen that imagery for the title of his album, Cold Coal Town. His mother and father both played bluegrass Gospel music as far back as he can remember and he began performing at the age of five with fiddler Senator Robert Byrd. Holstein started writing songs as a young boy. His biggest influences in song writing are Merle Haggard and, in performance style, Keith Whitley, although it is apparent that the likes of Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams and Dave Evans have left their mark on Holstein’s psyche. Almost all of his kin are in the mining industry and have been for more than a century. His grandfather was in the historic battle of Blair Mountain, 1921; one of the largest civil uprisings in United States history and the largest armed insurrection since the American Civil War. During the five-day confrontation between 10,000 and 15,000 coal miners fought an army of police and strikebreakers backed by coal operators, in an attempt by the miners to join a union in the southwestern West Virginia coalfields. Holstein moved to Nashville in the spring of 2009… “I was doing road gigs with Dave Evans and several other known acts and was ‘itching’ to record my own music. Randy Kohrs encouraged the move to Nashville to record my original music after we met at a festival around Macon, Georgia.” .Kohrs followed that by setting up the session at his own Slack Key Studio for August 17, 2010. All the songs on Cold Coal Town were penned by Holstein, who says, “These songs have been in my head for a while now and I made a point to debut my original music to honor where I came from (so they won’t forget me – and I don’t forget where I came from!). The songs on the album never had to be written down – they were just there.” Now from whom have I heard that before? Holstein [guitar and vocals] is joined in the studio by co-producer Randy Kohrs [Dobro and vocals], Clay Hess [lead guitar], Scott Vestal [banjo], Aaron Ramsey [mandolin], Tim Crouch [fiddle] and Jay Weaver [bass], with Don Rigsby providing harmony vocals on two tracks. I would describe Cold Coal Town as mood music, dark moody blues; bluesy bluegrass-country that barely changes except for the bouncy banjo-led Leavin’ Charleston and the other instrumental on this disc, The Holstein Waltz. On these and throughout the ‘band’ is exemplary. The sombre tone is set with the opening bars of the Dobro intro to The Spell followed by Holstein’s husky baritone telling a tale of lost love. The second track, Walls of Stone, bemoans the consequences of jealous love. Holstein uses his voice very well, bringing a softness to the haunting tribute to another of Holstein’s influences, the Stanley Brothers, in Clinch Mountain Hills, a superb duet with Don Rigsby, Boone County Blues, another lament to lost love, and Montani Semper Liberi (Latin for “Mountaineers are Always Free”), the West Virginia state motto. The a cappella trio Black Water and Cold Coal Town are both top quality additions to the coal-mining song repertoire. The former relates the devastating events in Buffalo Creek in 1972 when 125 lost their lives; the title track is an expression of the desire to get away from coal mining and all that it brings. Both merit favourable comparison with similar songs penned by Hazel Dickens and Merle Travis. Along with Ain’t No Higher Ground and Roll Coal Roll Holstein shows that he is a great spokesman for the coal miner in the 21st century. Sadly, nothing much changes in the industry, or the way of life for many in West Virginia. On the back page of the notebook there is a legend “The bluegrass sessions Vol. 1”; on the basis of what Holstein has produced in Cold Coal Town I can’t wait for Vol. 2.
Richard F. Thompson -BLUEGRASS TODAY
This is an outstanding recording in every way. With a rich baritone voice reminiscent of country singer Josh Turner and a talent for writing straight-to-the-gut lyrics wrapped up in strong melodies, Scott Holstein has hit one out of the park with Cold Coal Town. These great songs draw from life in coal country and build a consistent theme throughout the entire recording, resulting in a cohesive work that may very well stand with the likes of Jimmy Arnold’s Southern Soul or Marty Stuart’s The Pilgrim.
Propelled by Holstein’s powerful vocals, Cold Coal Town is a trip through the highs and lows of Appalachian mountain life and the coal mining which has, throughout the history of the region, been both a blessing and a curse. Holstein’s well-crafted, compelling songs hit the themes believably, from the prisoner’s lament in “Walls Of Stone” and the civil war tale ‘Montani Semper Liberi” to “Roll Coal Roll” and the hard-driving “Boone County Blues.” Although lacking the high part of the high-lonesome sound, Holstein evokes the sound and influence of the Stanley Brothers with two songs of particular note. “Clinch Mountain Hills” is as close to something Ralph and Carter might have done as any song that actually mentions the Stanleys. And the chilling a cappella dirge “Black Water” reflects back to the folk tradition, when true songs of tragedy and loss would pass news from community to community, much like the Stanleys’ songs did with “No Schoolbus In Heaven” and “The Flood.”
None of this is to suggest that Cold Coal Town is a depressing recording. It isn’t. It’s too refined and gutsy. It’s dark, but with driving instrumental work from a crackerjack supporting cast including Randy Kohrs, Scott Vestal, Aaron Ramsey, Clay Hess, and others, Cold Coal Town has an emotional impact that’s almost visual, as great music can do. Holstein has not only created a great recording, but also a fine work of art and a recording not to be missed. One of the best in a very long time. (Coal Records, P.O. Box 22601 Nashville TN 37202 , .)
-AWIII BLUEGRASS UNLIMITED HIGHLIGHT REVIEW
Singer/songwriter Scott Holstein lined up some of my favorite Nashville-based bluegrass session musicians to bring his original songs to life on an evocative album with a sharp edge. One can hardly go wrong with the likes of Randy Kohrs (Dobro, harmony vocals), Scott Vestal (banjo), Tim Crouch (fiddle), Aaron Ramsey (mandolin), Clay Hess (guitar), and Jay Weaver (bass). Special guest Don Rigsby adds vocal tracks to a cappella “Black Water” and “Clinch Mountain Hills.” The latter pays a respectful tribute to the Stanley Brothers. Holstein follows that track with another in ¾-time, “The Holstein Waltz,” a particularly elegant showcase for champion fiddler Crouch and mandolinist Ramsey. Originally from West Virginia, Holstein’s self-penned title cut has an impressionistic message that evolves melodically into an expanded jazzy improvisation. Mournful themes are similarly revisited in the “Boone County Blues” and “Roll Coal Roll.” Another stellar song is “Montani Semper Liberi” (West Virginia’s state motto meaning mountaineers are always free) that tells of a young West Virginia in 1863 who chooses neutrality during the Civil War rather than to allow the gray or blue to take his mountain. The bouncy instrumental “Leavin’ Charleston” could become a bluegrass standard. Holstein’s album has grit, largely as a result of his expressive baritone vocals and formidable rhythmically-enticing bluegrass accompaniment. Both are similar to Jim Lauderdale’s approach to bluegrass. Holstein’s direct, creative approach to writing and singing impart plenty of attitude, as well as a few honky tonk, country and rock & roll influences into a thoughtful bluegrass project. (Joe Ross)
Joe Ross/ Roots Music Report
The last musical recommendation I got from the late lamented 9513 was Scott Holstein, who Brody Vercher pointed out a few weeks ago. His independent CD Cold Coal Town has been produced by Scott himself alongside dobro player extraordinaire Randy Kohrs. Impressively, the entire album was recorded in one night (in Kohrs’ studio in Nashville), and great credit goes to the very accomplished band. Bluegrass backings and a soulful fusion of bluegrass-country-blues in Scott’s passionately smoky voice set this record apart. The songs, all written by Scott, are mainly rooted in his West Virginia coalmining family background, and the quality is exceptionally high. ‘The Spell’ opens the set with the protagonist railing against the woman he loves despite her “wicked ways”. It seems quite appropriate for it to lead into ‘Walls Of Stone’, the blues-infused lament of a prisoner sentenced to 99 years in gaol after killing his unfaithful wife. The sprightly instrumental ‘Leavin Charleston’ showcases the band’s tight, sparkling musicianship. Their more lyrical playing comes to the fore in another instrumental cut, the stately ’The Holstein Waltz’, which is lovely. Scott does not play an instrument on the album, but composed the tunes. ‘Boone County Blues’ is one of those cheerful sounding expressions of deep sadness which are common in bluegrass, again with really great picking. It is, perhaps, the least exceptional song here, but is still very good. The charming ‘Clinch Mountain Hills’ is a tribute to the Stanley brothers, written by Carter Stanley’s graveside and channelling his voice. Don Rigsby provides the high tenor harmony counterpoint to Scott’s gravelly baritone. I don’t remember ever seeing a country song with a Latin title before. ‘Montani Semper Liberi’ is the official motto of Scott’s home state of West Virginia (meaning “mountaineers [are] always free”), and the song tells a dramatic story, with a young man choosing not to take sides in the Civil War, just as the state was formed in June 1863, declaring: Mama stitched my uniform But no colors do I choose They’ll never take this mountain The gray nor the blue Cause mountaineers are always free And almost heaven’s good enough for me Upon this land I’ll state my creed Mountaineers are always free The grim reality of life in the coal towns fuels much of Scott’s best work. The title track has the protagonist leaving his childhood home for a better future, and reminiscing about the hardworking miner father who “left one day and came back dead”, having advised his son not to follow him into the mines. In ‘Roll, Coal, Roll’, meanwhile, the protagonist is a weary trucker moving coal down from the mountain mines. The acappella Black Water quietly and compellingly tells the true story of a fatal flood caused by a coal company’s unsafe practices in the 70s, when several communities were destroyed and over 100 people were killed at Buffalo Creek, West Virginia by coal slurry after a dam broke. Perhaps the highlight of a very fine record, this sounds like a traditional folk song, and has Don Rigsby and Randy Kohrs on harmony: Coal company said “God is to blame” They built the dam “but He brought the rain” Truth was known throughout the land Never do trust a company man Black water, black water So black and so deep And under black water forever I’ll sleep Death angels are calling out to me Black water is rolling down Buffalo Creek Death was the scene even high in the tree Fathers and children and mothers to be Nowhere to run as black water comes down And so is the lie of a coal mining town A similar flood seen from the first person, this time caused by a coal company’s reckless clearance of tree cover on the mountain, sees locals seeking refuge, but there ‘Ain’t No Higher Ground’ to run to. This is a fantastic record, and definitely my favourite of the year so far. I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t make my end of year top 10. Grade: A +
Occasonal Hope via Brody Vercher c/o MyKindofCountry / The 9513
The best records so often come from artists who sing and write about what they truly know best. They let the rest of the world in on their ex- periences, surroundings, and the tribulations of their environment. When it’s done right, everyone can relate to situations that they may have never experienced themselves. Such is the case with Scott Holstein’s debut album, “Cold Coal Town.” Holstein is able to sing with authority on the subject matter of his new record; he grew up in the back hollows and hills of Appalachia, and his family’s history in coal mining provides him the inspiration for many of these songs that shine with authenticity. “Cold Coal Town” tackles subjects like the disaster experienced by coal- mining community Buffalo Creek in which many victims lost their lives due to an unsafe coal sludge dam. With the track “Clinch Mountain Hills,” he tips his hat to The Stanley Brothers who were major influences on his own music. Throughout the album, Holstein sings from the heart with integrity and sincerity. After backing up other musicians for years, it’s high time for Scott Holstein to find an audience all his own!
Ryan Smith / Direct Buzz Magazine
2012 was a challenging year for me. I changed jobs paths, moved house and home, and started over in a new area of the province. All of these alterations to my (our) life have been positive, and things are going very well. But, these caused some significant disruption to music reflection and writing; other aspects of life, while always important, became more obviously significant in 2012 as my priorities had to adjust. One doesn't voluntarily leave an employer after more than two decades without some shifting in daily routines. As well, I gave up my "Roots Music" newspaper column this year as we left Red Deer, and that was hard to do.
Writing about music took a backseat to other challenges this past year. Most likely, I listened to as much music this year as in any other, and quite possibly, I listened to a broader spectrum of music. More of that music was in a digital format, with which I have a love-hate relationship: love the immediacy of digital downloads, loathe the corresponding increasingly small selection of CDs at even the best of stores.
I also received fewer albums for review via the mail. As the record business continues to modify itself, fewer labels are servicing me with releases for review. I always give writing priority to the albums that are sent to me and projects I purchase usually don't get reviewed. That is starting to change a little but will be reflected in today's article; on the whole I feel an obligation to at least try to write about albums I receive in non-descript little yellow padded envelopes.
Still, I wrote more this year than I have in some others. I produced eight reviews for Country Standard Time, almost twenty pieces here at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, and another fifteen reviews for the Lonesome Road Review. I also posted to my blog Fervor Coulee 140 times in 2012, with many reviews scattered in among the various other ramblings. Perhaps self-justification, but I would rather emphasize quality over quanitity.
Through all of that, I truly felt I couldn't justify creating year-end favourite lists this year. Understandably, while moving house too many album and downloads went missing for significant periods of time and some of the downloads are lost forever. I felt any attempt at list-making this year would be fraught with omissions and wouldn't accurately reflect my true opinions.
What I've decided to do instead is to feature a small selection of albums I wish I had wrote about this year, albums I should have found the time to feature in 2012. Today I am going to feature six bluegrass and acoustiblue albums that I enjoyed as much as any others encountered this year, but simply ran out of time (and energy) to write about when they were released.
I'm not certain when Scott Holstein's "Cold Coal Town" was released (I think it was an early 2011 issue), but I do know I listened to it in the truck almost continually for a couple weeks late last winter after receiving early in 2012. I have since encountered it as the bonus disc within an inessential but more-comprehensive-than-most bluegrass sampler, "Rough Guide to Bluegrass." Since it made its way to me this year, and I feel that it is freakin' masterful, I am going to feature it in this year-end wrap up.
Scott Holstein knows bluegrass. I've been thinking a lot about authenticity lately, its importance and its folly. For a bluegrass artist to be truly authentic, he (because he would have to be a he, wouldn't he?) would have to be a double-timing, murdering, bootlegging boozer, rounder and Christian with severe mama issues. However, when I listen to Scott Holstein sing, authentic is-rightly or wrongly- the word what keeps coming to mind- he sings like he has experienced every emotion and event tied to his songs.
These sounds wrap the listener in the spell of mountain music that could have been recorded in the early 70s by Ralph and Roy Lee. The album begins with a few notes of reso from Randy Kohrs, launching into a bass-driven rhythm of the torment caused by a wicked woman and continues for another ten songs, singing of the mysteries of love and land.
Coal-mining and its impact on the people of the Appalachian region is examined in several places. The impact of the Stanley sound on Holstein and bluegrass is captured within Clinch Mountain Hills. Haunting just begins to describe Black Water, a song that explores- in a very different manner than James Reams and Tina Aridas did within Buffalo Creek Flood- the 1972 disaster that occurred when a slurry dam gave way.
Holstein hired on great pickers including Clay Hess, Scott Vestal, Aaron Ramsey, and Tim Crouch, as well as a bass player I hadn't previously been aware of, Jay Weaver. Don Rigsby sings on a pair of tracks.
Well worth placing at the top of your 'saved for later' or 'wish list.'
-Donald Teplyske / Country Standard Time / Fervour Coulee
Once again my friend and producer Randy Kohrs sent me an amazing project to master. Scott Holstein’s“Cold Coal Town” highlights Holstein’s fantastic vocal performances and killer song writing.The musicianship is stellar and Scott’s singing is off the hook.The Americana and Bluegrass communities are gonna eat this one up!
- Randy LeRoy / Airshow Mastering
Rarely do I find an album which deserves more praise than Cold Coal Town. Boone County, West Virginia native, Scott Holsteinshould be proud to hang his name on one of the best CDs that I heard during 2013. This is a collection of extremely crafted Bluegrass Country songs. Vocals are distinctive and pleasing sung with the elocution/diction of Randy Travis meets the low tones of Waylon Jennings, George Jones and Merle Haggard. Make no mistake- this is Bluegrass, not Blues. The Spell, is a finger picker’s delight and sets the pace for this release. The ringing of banjo, courtesy of Scott Vestal and mandolin fills by Aaron Ramsey compliment the song over foundation of the other instruments. Fiddle touches from the fingers of Tim Crouch sweeten the mix. Great stuff. Walls of Stone, written by Randy Kohrs is a personal favorite. Again the mandolin and artful Dobro work by Kohrs work well with the banjo solo from Scott Vestal. The biting and forlorn lyrics of a prisoner of walls and memories in a troubled mind. Blues have many flavors. This stew is certainly steeped in the mindset of the blues. Title cut, Cold Coal Town, showcases the trifecta of violin from Crouch, excellent banjo again from Vestal and mandolin from Ramsey cement this one as a keeper! Again the deep vocals and upright bass underpin great song writing. Excellent playing, production and song craft is evidenced throughout this CD. Black Water is a chilling tale recalling the Buffalo Creek flood disaster (February 26, 1972, Logan County, West Virginia) that killed and injured many due to a dam failure. This song begs the listener to join in with the harmony of this mostly a acapella song. Crisp and precise, the vocals tell of the coal company reassurance that the dam, which failed, was satisfactory. Chilling as black water. Leaving Charleston is a pleasant instrumental romp which compliments, contrasts and balances the previous cut with a cheerful cut. Indicative of craftsmanship in song order which pulls this set together as a balanced unit rather than separate items. Kudos to Slack Key Studio and Engineer, Mike Latterell with mastering from Randy Leroy at Airshow for not losing it all in the mix. Boone County Blues, Vocal harmonies, guitar picking from Holstein and Clay Hess drive this train down this track. The West Texan twin fiddle sound Texas top off this tune to make it right. A tribute to West Virginia, ‘Montani Semper Liberi’ , ("Mountaineers are Always Free") is the state nickname is the Mountain State. This song stitched together a mental picture like a comfortable old quilt. Harkening back to a mental picture of Civil War soldiers experiences. The war fighters thoughts beg the listener to reflect on contemporary battles and tip their hat to West Virginia. Don Bigsby helps with the vocals on Roll Coal Roll, a reflection of the source and final destination of the coal. Clinch Mountain Hills is as banjo/fiddle/mandolin delight with reference to and influence from Carter Stanley/Stanley singers. You might get a chill if you listen to the Hills. The Holstein Waltz a lovely Country waltz simple and wonderful while lending the spotlight the talents of several band members in a tasteful around the table fashion. Ain’t No Higher Ground brings back one last uplifting serving of Holstein’s distinctive vocals. Over all I found difficulty in dissecting the songs in this grouping as each is wonderful and unique yet held together with extreme craftsmanship from start to finish. From song writing to performance and production this is terrific offering. I might fail as a critic as I could find nothing which could improve upon what exists in these recordings. Unfortunate that this set was released in 2010 as I’d love to nominate Cold Coal Town as the best Bluegrass album of the year- any year. Strong encouragement is extended for any listener of the Blues to give this one a listen for the sake of expansion of your horizons, honor to our musical roots and for sheer auditory delight.
Bman's Blues Report / James Ellis
In common with the Stanley Brothers -- and, after Carter's death, Ralph Stanley on his own -- Scott Holstein conjures up a sound that emanates from the space between old-time mountain music and its much younger incarnation, bluegrass. It's not quite one or the other, or maybe it's both. However you classify it, it is plain-spoken and soulful, and not so ancient as it may seem. Cold Coal Town is all Holstein's compositions, with backing from the estimable likes of Scott Vestal (banjo), Tim Crouch (fiddle), Randy Kohrs (dobro) and others. Holstein accompanies himself on guitar.
Having just been exposed to a new CD from a chirpy family band, part of a movement that apparently seeks to blur the distinction between bluegrass and country-pop, I turned to Coal Town for relief and restoration. This is tough-minded stuff with a darkly hued view of life, in this instance from the perspective of a man in West Virginia's coal country, something Holstein, who hails from there, knows about. If you're looking for authenticity -- I can't define that much-abused word, but I think I recognize it when I hear it -- this is as close an approximation as the 21st century allows.
The album features a Stanley Brothers tribute ("Clinch Mountain Hills"), and a terrific one it is, but if Holstein's voice and overall sensibility remind me of anyone, it's Dave Evans, the veteran Ohio-based banjo player and vocalist who traffics in the raw and traditional. Evans and Holstein communicate the mostly grim news in baritones so compelling that you'll never make the mistake -- more than once, anyway -- of treating their albums as background music. Evans contributes liner notes to Coal Town, clearly recognizing a brother in the art of putting pictures from life's other side on exhibition.
Nearly all of the songs -- there are nine of them along with two splendid instrumentals -- focus on aspects of life under Big Coal. Few coal songs are cheerful, and Holstein's are no exception, but they stand their ground against nearly any of the competition. Sung unaccompanied and sounding as if more than a century old, "Black Water" relates a true tale of a February 1972 flood in Buffalo Creek, W.Va., occasioned by what Holstein calls the "rich man's greed" -- a dam collapsed, coal slurry washed over the immediate area ending the lives of 125 coal-town residents, and the coal company ducked responsibility. "Roll Coal Roll" feels like two songs in one: both a coal-truck driver's complaint and an uneasy lament for the fading of the industry.
One consistent, paradoxical reality is that traditional music manages to communicate tragedy and hard times without driving the listener away. Rather, besides providing the pleasure one experiences from songs with strong melodies and compelling narratives, it deepens one's connection to the world. Holstein sings honestly and convincingly from a true and profound place. Wherever his songs go, they take you with them.
-Jerome Clark / Rambles.net
This extraordinary project gets your attention right away. Although, I've never worked in a coal mine after playing this project I had a greater appreciation of the men & children working in "the mines". All of these original songs paint a bleak picture of the conditions in the mines. With that said, your voice was the appropriate vehicle for this project. It had that grit & rasping sound that fit in perfectly with these songs. Great work by the members of the band who assisted on this project. This is the type of project that needs to be played several times to get the full impact of all the lyrics to each song. It could also be a great "learning tool". I can't wait to share this project with my listeners.
Thank you for sharing this fine project with us.
Al Shusterman - KCBL Radio
“Scott is the best kept secret in Bluegrass music”. These are not words used lightly by those in the business. “This doesn’t happen very often for me. When it does I recognize it immediately. He has a gift. The world needs to know about Scott Holstein.” -Terry Herd (Into the Blue) Syndicated Program / WSM Radio
I have known Scott Holstein for 10 years or more and his soulful style of singing. I like every song on this album! My favorite being Black Water about the Buffalo Creek flood. A great singer, songwriter and musician. Scott can do it! It all sounds good! A great batch of musicians! Highly recommended! He has heartfelt music and worked for me over the years and is one fine person and friend. You can't look for any more soulful singing not only in Bluegrass but if you like Merle Haggard and George Jones' Country style of music -Scott has his own way of doing it too! The first of many to come and looking forward to the next one. He sings from the heart!
- DAVE EVANS / BLUEGRASS LEGEND
This is a great Americana record that can't be denied!
- CARL JACKSON (Multi-Grammy award winner)