There is something beautiful and enduring about a dance hall floor. With country music as the backdrop, people congregate to shuffle and twirl their troubles and broken hearts away just like their parents and grandparents did before them, and just like their kids will do some day as well.
There is comfort to be found in the continuum of those dancing traditions and the halls that house them, just like the comfort that can be found in the arms of another on those old plank floors, whether it’s your favorite beau or lady, or a perfect stranger that you put your life in the hands of for three minutes at a time.
We first heard about Carra Stasney, a.k.a. Mamma Coal about 10 years ago when she was one half of the duo Copper and Coal with red-headed singer and songwriter Leslie Beia. Mamma Coal then impressed with her debut solo album, which was a twist on Willie Nelson’s conceptualized Red Headed Stranger called Raven Haired Vixen. Now she’s settled in Tucson, AZ, with the Southwest environs helping to influence the sound of her new album.
Dance Hall Crush is not exactly conceptualized, but many of the songs touch on the same theme. “Dance Hall Crush” and “Lead Her On” help set the table for an album inspired by honky tonk night life. “Get It Girl” and “One Man Woman” could be considered adjacent to this theme as well since they speak to the challenges that present themselves in the pursuit of love on the dance floor and beyond.
It wouldn’t be a dance hall album without some waltzes, and Mamma Coal delivers a couple of great ones in “One Man Woman” and “Love Maintenance.” This is where her soulful and smoky voice really stand out via a confident delivery, helping to sell the ideas behind her well-written songs that explore eternal truths that may expose themselves on dance floors, but resonate throughout life.
This is a country album conclusively, but Mamma Coal found a good amount of variety to keep the experience spicy and intriguing. There is a touch of the Southwestern flair in “Arizona Sunset Skies,” and a much deeper one with “For Everything Bad, Mezcal” sung with Norteño music artist Laura Denisse y Los Brilliantes from Monterrey.
It’s only appropriate that Mamma Coal also brings a bit of a ravenesque, Gothic flair to her music as well. Her cover of Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight” utilizes much darker chords than the original composition, exposing the lonesome sadness in the song that can be overlooked in the more sanguine style of the popular take. “Ghost Town Get Down” is a great song for an October release, taking the dance hall theme to the undead in a way only an artist like Mamma Coal can pull off.
Dance Call Crush is also well-produced, rising to the challenge the quality songwriting presents. Whatever a song calls for, it gets, from the banjo coming in at the end of “Dance Hall Crush” to really set it off, to the harmonica on “Ghost Town Get Down.” Mamma Coal even finishes with a Western swing number call “Good Time Gal” that you could have sworn someone like Cindy Walker wrote and sang back in the mid ’40s.
Mamma Coal is one of those artists that national publications and playlists too often overlook, while her well-crafted music carries with it a national and international appeal for anyone with a love of country music in their hearts. Deviling beneath the surface to explore deeper truths found in one of country music’s timeless rituals, Dance Hall Crush helps articulate not just what country fans do on Friday and Saturday nights all around the country, but why.