various artists,
Still Moving Mountains: The Journey Home
(Aurora Lights, 2009)

"Moving mountains" is ordinarily a phrase used to denote extraordinary effort. To the musicians and activists who put this collection together, it has two meanings. One is the vile practice of mountaintop-removal mining in Appalachia, and the other is the struggle to protect the environment of the Southern mountains and the health of those who live there. Still Moving Mountains is for a good cause: the financing of the opposition. Even if it weren't a good album, it would be a project worth supporting with your purchase.

Happily, the music is excellent, and it's mostly uninterrupted (and then only briefly) through the first 13 cuts. The next four cuts (14-17) are taken up with the words of locals as well as country-folk singer Kathy Mattea and environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The songs come from the famous and obscure. In the former category are Mattea (in a very strong reading of the Jean Ritchie classic "Blue Diamond Mines"), the Del McCoury Band (Larry Keel's "Mountain Song") and Blue Highway (the original "Clear Cut"). Everett Lilly, the surviving Lilly Brother (a revered brother duet long based in Boston but originally from West Virginia), opens proceedings with an impassioned reading of the traditional "Long Journey Home."

Other musical acts are locally based, carrying on the powerful mountain traditions of both song and struggle, belying the widely held perception -- not entirely wrong, unfortunately -- that the region's cultural conservatism leads its residents to vote for reactionary politicians more loyal to the coal companies than to the people who suffer from their abuses. Still Moving Mountains movingly affirms the continuing presence of Appalachia's better, radical angels. And you could do a whole lot worse than introduce Alan Johnston & South 52, heretofore unknown to me, to your ear. Their "Sweet Appalachia" is far fiercer than the title would lead you to believe.

review by
Jerome Clark

10 October 2009

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