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  • Unbroken Circle: Songs of the West Virginia Coalfi
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Unbroken Circle: Songs of the West Virginia Coalfi Single

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Audio CD, Single, February 12, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

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"Tom Breiding's Bluegrass flavored CD "The Unbroken Circle" provides a much needed look at the story of the West Virginia coalfields. Like the best historical fiction, these true stories in song provide easy access to a culture whose trials and tribulations are too often ignored" - Tim O'Brien, Grammy Award Winning Singer-Songwriter "Shades of Woody Guthrie - These recordings contribute to the historical understanding of this much misunderstood region." - Tom T. Hall, "The Storyteller"


Guide Rating - five stars There have been numerous collections released through the years of songs and recordings paying tribute to, and telling the stories of coal miners, their families, and their work. This collection features a couple of traditional songs about coal mining, but mostly Breiding did a great job writing his own collection. The Traditional Songs There are only two songs on this disc taken from the Appalachian coal mining songbook. "Red Haired Boy" is a terrific performance of the classic Irish fiddle tune. For it, he recruited members of the Short Crick Flatpickers (a local bluegrass band), and the performance is exquisite. The other track not composed by Breiding is "The Singing Coal Miner," which is actually an archival recording from WSAZ-TV News in Huntington, WV. It's a nice little reminder that the stories told on this album actually happened to real people. Breiding's Original Songs Tom Breiding clearly has been very touched by the history of coal mining in West Virginia. This album doesn't just serve as a remarkable tribute to the history and labor issues through which that community has struggled. It also does an exquisite job of telling the people's history of the West Virginia coalfields. Breiding has an excellent natural empathy and is able to tell these stories through the eyes of the miners without sounding at all forced. When he sings about the struggles of the miners, his voice embodies the range of emotions tied to the craft: frustration, exhaustion, fear, anger, dedication and submission. Highlights and the Bottom Line "My Father's Clothes" is a wonderful tune recounting the feeling of inheriting coal mining as a family business. "The Longest Darkest Day" tells a first-hand account of the story of the Buffalo Creek disaster, when the area flooded. "The Bull Moose Special," one of the album's strongest songs, tells about a specific strike during which a miner was killed and Mother Jones helped to organize the miners. "Union Miner" is another highlight of the disc, announcing the dichotomous pride and frustration that comes with being a union miner. Breiding is a fantastic songwriter, and an even more gifted performer. Despite the fact that he's singing more from the third-person, paying tribute to this history, there is nothing lost in the recounting of these stories. His lyrics are honest and empathic, and the instrumentation is outstanding. This is an excellent musical introduction to the plight of the Appalachian coal miner, and a wonderful addition to the coal mining songbook. --Kim Ruehl, Folk Music Guide (New York Times Company)

West Virginia native, Tom Breiding is a singer/songwriter who now lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he is very active in the local folk community. Breiding is adept at guitar and Dobro and ably supported by local musicians on bluegrass instruments, but it is the strength of the songwriting on this CD that makes the biggest impression. Nine original songs impart the stories of miners and their families and give evidence of some ot the human costs of mining coal. In the informative liner notes, Breiding cites the historic events that inspired these songs. The 1912 strike that sent miners and their families out of company homes to live in tents alongside Paint Creek in Kanawha County (central West Virginia) and led to martial law and a massacre, as described in "The Bull Moose Special"; the straight-forward and tragic obituary of Joe Fry, who "deceased this life of 27 years...Married 10 days short of their first year" in the 1930's; and "The Longest Darkest Day," which gives an account of a mining disaster at Buffalo Creek in 1972 when black water from the slate dams broke through and flooded the valley in West Virginia, killing 118 people and leaving thousands homeless. Other songs address more generalized issues about earning a living in the mines, such as the unending poverty, danger, and dependency on the company for one's own home. ("It's hard to see beyond tomorrow/When you're living for today/In desperate times it's just survival/I'll tell you, sir, it's always been that way.") The Short Creek Flatpickers, a West Virginia bluegrass band, contribute an energetic instrumental offering, the traditional "The Red Haired Boy." Breiding's own composition "The House We Called Home" is likely to become a new folk standard. --Dirty Linen Magazine June/July 2008 Issue

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