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Devil In The Hills

Mary Hott With The Carpenter Ants

Mary Hott Music 2021

Review by David Bowling

Every once in a while, an under the radar artist with a new album, sneaks up on me and so it is with Mary Hott with Her Carpenter Ants from Paw Paw, West Virginia. Devil In The Hills is her new release and it is an Appalachian mining history lesson.

The summer of 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the miner’s uprising in West Virginia, culminating in the battle of Blair Mountain where 10,000 miners battled state police officers and federal troops. Her lyrics recreate the stories of pain and frustration of the miner’s plight. Her clear voice and catchy country music, which run counter point to the lyrics, make the album a musical and historical adventure.

Seven songs from the original main suite form the center of the album and message.

“A Minor’s Perspective” is a short-spoken word intro that sets up what will follow. Whether it be the rawness of family prostitution in “Annabelle Lee,” the terror of “They Built A Railroad,” “the hopelessness and helplessness of “The Spot” or the oddly mystical “Room Of Lost Souls; Hott presents her stories with power and regret.

An odd and album ending fit is her interpretation of John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads.” She substitutes a few of the words and strips the accompaniment down to a piano. What emerges is a full-blown gospel rendition that ends the album on a wistful note.

Hott is a rare artist who has an intimate connection with her material. Her father died from a heart attack after working three overtime shifts in a chemical factory, which make her part of several generations of working-class families who toil for minimum wages in dangerous jobs.

Devil In The Hills is a challenging and at times difficult album, but ultimately an album worth hearing and exploring.

Rating:  ***1/2