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January 2, 2007

The Long Review: Compilation draws attention to mountaintop removal

mountain cdWhen I was a child, my family and I attended the Kentucky Music festivals at the Iroquois Amphitheater. The significance of these events was largely lost on my youthful brain.That is, until I witnessed Nancy Niles Sexton perform “Pretty Polly.”The song itself scared the willies out of me, but the sight of that archetypal matriarch performing a song that conveyed what I took to be all the hardships of mountain life messed me up good. I had an idea, but I didn’t know what it meant. I was about 6 years old after all. It’s like trying to understand particle physics — you can get a brain cramp if you’re not ready for it.It is with those early feelings in mind that I recommend this CD.I could tell right away that it was special. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is an organization dedicated to protesting mountaintop removal.It’s about increasing awareness of the dangerous and irresponsible destruction of Kentucky’s topography. It’s also about more than that.It’s about Kentucky’s musical heritage.It’s about the pride Kentuckians feel for their homeland and the outrage they feel when that homeland is threatened.It’s about the responsibility we share to our environment.As Jean Ritchie said of her contribution, “Now is the Cool of the Day”: “It’s just about God walking in his garden in the cool of the day, and how we should be good stewards of the earth.”Noted Kentucky authors Silas House, George Ella Lyon and Anne Shelby contribute original tunes, as do Ford MacNeill, Tim Gilliam and Fred Brown, the Reel World String Band and The Betweeners.Brett Ratliff opens the disc with a solo, “High Up on the Mountaintop,” and also performs a traditional Kentucky fiddle tune with his band, the Clack Mountain String Band. Randy Wilson closes the disc with his version of the traditional spiritual, “I’m On My Way.”The project was intended to be a companion piece to the best-selling book “Missing Mountains.” It stands very well on its own, though, thanks to the deep feelings of responsibility and pride shared by the artists. This collection deserves all the respect and attention afforded a Folkways collection.For more information on Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, or to buy a copy of the CD, visit www.kftc.org. Contact the writer at msteiger@leoweekly.com