"When I made Coal that came from a different place from any record I'd made," she said. "It happened right after Sago [mine disaster] and I was just torn up. Sago just wiped me out emotionally. I was bursting into tears in the middle of the day."
Mattea said a musician friend helped her find her way back. He told her, "Kathy, that's what music is good for. It helps us process emotions we don't understand."
So she made a record about coal mining.
The folksy and more root-oriented record was a departure from Mattea's better-known country-pop sound.
She said, "When I was growing up, there was all this Appalachian music going on all around me, but there was no one around to teach it to me. Nobody in my world was steeped in it."
Instead, she came to it later.
"It was like having something missing, then going back and picking up something that you didn't realize was missing," Mattea said.
She said discovering Appalachian music put her history into sharp focus. It gave context to who she was and inspired "Coal."
The style and subject matter of the record could have been a one-off, just an unusual project for a popular country artist later in her career, but Mattea said she still had songs that wouldn't leave her, songs that didn't make "Coal."
"And those became the seeds of Calling Me Home."
The new record, she said, is in a similar vein as "Coal," but maybe not as specific to mining.
"I just wanted to make a record that's about Appalachian culture," she said. "The interesting thing for me was to play these songs about a very specific place and very specific culture in other parts of the country and see how they respond to it."
Reality shows aside, Mattea believed, there's a lot of interest in this part of the world. Appalachia is just different.
"There's a particular connection that people here have with a sense of place," she said. "It's subtle, but huge -- a beautiful thing that we're losing everywhere."
"Calling Me Home," she said, celebrates the identity of Appalachia.
"I want to put my energy into the things I want to see highlighted and what I think is very special about Appalachian culture."
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.