Music Review - Mary Holt with The Carpenter Ants

This cover image released by Harmonic Alliance shows "Devil in the Hills: Coal Country Reckoning" by Mary Hott with the Carpenter Ants.

Mary Hott with the Carpenter Ants, “Devil in the Hills: Coal Country Reckoning” (Harmonic Alliance)

This is grim history beautifully told.

Mary Hott has put to music the tragic tale of West Virginia’s mine wars. They ended 100 years ago this summer, but her songs show the resulting emotional damage still lingers in the region.

No wonder: In Hott’s telling, the wars were a violent clash of rich and poor involving terrorism, slave labor and sexual exploitation often kept secret. “Devil in the Hills: Coal Country Reckoning” brings the wrongs to light in a powerful way, and the album package includes extensive, informative liner notes.

“If you don’t believe me,” Hott sings, “then shame on you.”

Hott is a seventh-generation West Virginian who had a career in software engineering before returning to her native Morgan County to run the local arts council. She released her first album of original material in 2014 and wrote seven of the songs on “Devil in the Hills.” Among the three covers is a moving rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” with Hott backed by gospel piano.

She has a first-rate supporting cast in the Carpenter Ants, with indie rock veteran Don Dixon and “Mountain Stage” house band guitarist Michael Lipton co-producing. The music is rootsy rock with echoes of Appalachia that perfectly suits Hott’s appealing alto and honors a singular genre: history matters.

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