Matt Brown

Musician, Teacher & Producer

Dear Jean: Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie

When I grow up I want to write just like Jean Ritchie. Seriously, I love every song she’s ever written. I love her simple yet beautiful melodies and the honest, heartfelt truth in them.
— Dolly Parton
As folk music continues to mourn the loss of its trailblazers, including Pete Seeger, who died earlier this year, Jean Ritchie doesn’t always get the respect and attention she deserves. Now in her early 90s and living in her native Kentucky, Ritchie is the subject of this two-CD tribute album honoring her work as a singer, songwriter, dulcimer player, and cultural preservationist. Kathy Mattea, Janis Ian, Oscar Brand, and Dale Ann Bradley are among the many musicians summoning the grace and simplicity of Ritchie’s songs. In one of his last recordings, Seeger does a spoken-word rendition of “I Celebrate Life,” and Judy Collins is heartbreakingly wistful on “One I Love.”
— The Boston Globe

On September 2, 2014, Compass Records will release Dear Jean: Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie.  Writing for The Lonesome Road Review, Donald Teplyske called it a "uniformly outstanding tribute."  The album, produced by Mick Lane, Charlie Pilzer, and Dan Schatz, features many of my favorite folk artists, and I am humbled to have been included on it as well.  I play fiddle on two of the tracks: Dan Schatz's gorgeous rendition of Jean's original "Thousand Mile Blues" and my own solo fiddle arrangement of the traditional play-party song "Golden Ring Around the Susan Girl."  I had a wonderful time recording with two great engineers here in Chicago.  Jesse McQuarters at WFMT helped me with Dan's track and Dennis Cahill, a long-time musical hero and recent duet partner, recorded "Golden Ring" in his own studio.

This album gives us a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Jean Ritchie's life, legacy, and music while she is here to bask in our appreciation, and also to turn our attention to the causes for which she has advocated throughout her life.  Susie Glaze, whose rendition of Jean's "West Virginia Mine Disaster" is an album highlight, wrote a lovely article about the pre-release celebration concert in Berea, Kentucky that featured Jean herself singing from the front row.  John McCutcheon, Tim O'Brien, Suzy Bogguss, Kathy Mattea, Stuart Duncan, and Bryn Davies open the album with a stunning rendition of my favorite Jean Ritchie composition, "Black Waters."  The song is devastatingly relevant, a necessary reminder of the havoc we continue to wreak on our planet.  

Sad scenes of destruction on every hand - black waters, black waters run down through my land
— "Black Waters" by Jean Ritchie
The surface mining practice called “mountaintop removal” is exactly as it sounds - coal companies blast the tops off mountains and dump the rock and dirt into valleys, burying headwaters and poisoning streams for miles. The artists who have come together to make this CD support the End Mountain Top Removal Campaign of Appalachian Voices, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping give voice to the people of the region to pressure the White House, Congress, state lawmakers and other decision-makers to end mountaintop removal, now.
— from the liner notes

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