Lonesome Ace Stringband’s version of Hazel Dickens’ “Black Lung”—part funeral dirge for her brother, who died from the coal miner’s disease, and part protest song—unfolds slowly with fiddler John Showman crooning the first verse a cappella; he adds a mournful fiddle under his lyrics on the song’s first refrain and second verse. Bassist Max Heineman and banjo layer Chris Coole add their harmonies on the song’s second refrain. The song’s tempo shifts as Coole’s brisk banjo rolls set the band off on a bluegrass ramble, scampering along with swirling rhythms and spiraling harmonies. The song slows again on the final refrain, with Showman again carrying the somber message home in a cappella vocals to close the song. Lonesome Ace Stringband captures the aching sorrow and the ravaging indictment that flow through the song. The song is included on the band’s new album Lively Times: Live at the Anza Club, out November 26.
As Coole says about the band’s version of the song: “‘Black Lung’ was written by the late Hazel Dickens. She wrote it about her brother’s struggle with the miner’s disease by the same name. On the original recording of this song, Hazel sings the piece a cappella and makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck the way only she can. This is one of the songs we learned for a tribute concert we did for Hazel back in 2018. John straightened out the timing of the piece, interpreted some chords, and then arranged it for 3-part harmony. Although you could never improve on what Hazel does with this song, we’re happy with where we landed with our version of this powerful piece of music. It’s stayed in our repertoire ever since.”
“Black Lung” is from Lonesome Ace Stringband’s album, Lively Times: Live at the Anza Club, available for pre-order – HERE