Members of Freakons gathered outside a red barn
Credit: Connie Ward

In the early days of the COVID pandemic, retail clerks, day-care staff, public-transportation employees, and many other workers learned what coal miners have known for a very long time: that the authorities who deem their labor essential don’t necessarily feel the same way about their lives. Freakwater and the Mekons have each sung folk ballads about the travails that miners have faced under the earth and on the picket line. The former is the country duo of Janet Beveridge Bean and Catherine Irwin, based in Chicago and Louisville, while the latter is a British-born, globally scattered band that planted some members here decades ago; the two groups share interests and aesthetics as well as bonds of friendship, so that their choice to unite as Freakons seems well-nigh inevitable. On the Freakons’ self-titled debut LP, Irwin, Bean, and Chicago-based Mekons Jon Langford and Sally Timms blend their voices in harmonies as solid as mine-shaft beams and trade spirited vocal leads over sparse guitar and fiddle accompaniment. The record’s 12 tracks include “Blackleg Miner,” a 19th-century anti-scab anthem, and Hazel Dickens’s “The Mannington Mine Disaster,” which memorializes an explosion that killed 78 West Virginia miners in 1968. But most of the material is written by various Freakons. Their original songs acknowledge mining’s disastrous environmental consequences as well as its social impact, and they also celebrate the triumphs of industry escapees such as actor Richard Burton, the son of a miner.

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The Freakons’ Freakons drops 3/25 and is available through Fluff & Gravy.