Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Kathy Mattea will stop by the Weinberg on Saturday night and she’s got someone she wants you to meet.
“It’s kind of like introducing audiences to your new friends,” said Mattea of the music from her latest album, “Calling Me Home,” released in September. Saturday’s concert is part of a month-long tour of the East Coast. Mattea picks up the tour again in April with stops in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and California.
Audiences who come out Saturday expecting to hear Mattea croon the country and bluegrass chart-toppers like “Goin’, Gone,” “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses,” and “Burnin’ Old Memories,” that made her a commercial success in the 1980s and 1990s, won’t be disappointed.
“We’ll play from the touchstones,” Mattea said. “From what people expect to hear when they come see us.”
But after rediscovering her West Virginia roots with the 2008 album, “Coal,” Mattea said audiences also can expect to hear some old-timey Appalachian mining songs which have come to define both “Coal” and “Calling Me Home.”
“What happened was I uncovered this genre of music that was all around me when I was growing up but there was no one in my life to teach it to me,” said Mattea, who grew up in Cross Lanes, W.Va., a coal mining town near Charleston, “I went back and realized, ‘Oh my God, there’s a whole other world out here.’”
Though she hadn’t grown up playing the richly folksy sounds of Appalachian music, Mattea said she still felt connected to the place where she’d grown up.
“Even though I heard this music but I didn’t grow up singing it, I am from that culture,” Mattea said. “There is a part of me that resonates very deeply with these songs. I wanted to celebrate Appalachian culture. I wanted to sing about the way that people live in relation to the land. That sense in our culture is kind of being lost.”
Despite the desire to reconnect, deciding to put out a record like “Coal” and then “Calling Me Home,” didn’t come without trepidation.
“It felt a little scary at first because I thought, ‘Maybe I won’t really be able to do it,’” Mattea said. “I was so afraid that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off.”
But thanks to the help of some expert collaborators, like “Coal’s” co-producer Marty Stuart and “Calling Me Home’s” Gary Paczosa, Mattea said she eventually developed the confidence.
While the type of music that fuels “Coal” and “Calling Me Home,” is the same, Mattea said like any two recordings, the albums differ.
“[‘Calling Me Home’] is a continuation of the Appalachian music that I kind of started exploring on ‘Coal,’” said Mattea. “[On ‘Calling Me Home’], there’s a sense of longing but it’s not as dark as ‘Coal.’ Not as melancholy.”
“Coal” was inspired in part by the Sago Mine disaster which claimed the lives of 12 West Virginia miners in 2006.
“I wanted to open it up,” Mattea said of recording “Calling Me Home.” “I wanted to be able to explore Appalachian music without sticking to one theme. There’s a wonderful wistfulness to [this album].”
Just as her music career has spanned and evolved over the last three decades, so has Mattea’s work in social activism. In the early 1990s, Mattea became involved in HIV/AIDS-related charities and now focuses on other issues like social change, the environment and nonviolence. In addition to touring with her music, Mattea also travels for speaking engagements.
“Whatever role I have that has been called activism has happened organically,” Mattea said. “I call myself the reluctant activist.”
Reluctant or not, Mattea continues to use her most powerful tool — music — to promote change.
“Music fuels conversation,” she said. “Music kind of knocks on the back door of our brain. [It] touches us in a different way than just straight language.”