The documentary, “From the Ashes” explores the coal industry and its effects on people. John Mellencamp provides the theme song, “Dark as a Dungeon”; the song represents not only the film’s theme, but a new development in Mellencamp’s career
John Mellencamp, singer
For more than 40 years, John Mellencamp has earned audiences through his straightforward songs and homespun vocals. Early albums such as “American Fool,” and “Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did?” feature Mellencamp’s rough tenor. Now that Mellencamp is 65 years old, his voice has aged, too. It is this trait that serves him well on this latest project.
The age of Mellencamp’s voice provides an almost measureless depth to it. The word “raspy” does not quite capture the essence of it. The Mellencamp of 2017, is different than the Mellencamp of say, 1980. The younger version of the singer can be described as rakish and perhaps impatient. His more pliable voice is more suited to the situations that youth creates. It will be interesting to see what projects prove suitable for Mellencamp’s aged instrument.
“Dark as a Dungeon”: A song with history
“Dark as a Dungeon” was written by Merle Travis in the 1940s. The song was recorded by Travis in the late 1940s. Famously, Johnny Cash performed the song at Folsom Prison. Other country artists have covered the track as well. That Mellencamp is not a country singer is meaningful; that he is performing the song for a documentary about the true cost of coal mining speaks volumes about the importance of performers like Mellencamp.
Mellencamp’s performance notes
The quality of Mellencamp’s voice is fitting for the theme of the song. The word “dark” sung in a voice that could be described that way. The voice reaches out to listeners without pretense or gimmick. The only song that comes close is “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. In comparison, Tubbs’ song seems light, and it is not. That shows the gravitas of “Dark as a Dungeon.”
Coal mining is shrouded in mystery for most people. The documentary, “From the Ashes” shows the effects of coal mining. Mellencamp’s voice and song give that reality a soundtrack.