The release of Seneca marks the arrival of Morgantown, West Virginia singer-songwriter Charles Wesley Godwin as an authentic voice in country music. Singing about the “hills where my grandfather worked” with a clear, strong voice, Godwin spins a warm vision of the people of coal country and their lives. He paints with his words, vividly drawing the scenery of mountains.
Godwin is grateful for where he comes from without naked sentiment. In “Coal Country,” he sings, “it put a roof over my head,” which is the literal truth; Godwin is the son of a coal miner and a school teacher. At the same time, Godwin recognizes the problems that come of living in a world with company stores and the scourge of codeine.
There’s something for everyone on Seneca. There are slow, thoughtful, wistful tunes, with lots of strings, and there are fast, hard-driving driving, danceable songs. “Hardwood Floors” is a honky tonk number. There are reflections on West Virginia life and family, like “Windmill,” and story songs, like “Seneca Creek,” which tenderly chronicles the course of a relationship over 50 years. “Strawberry Queen” is a love song.
Musically, the highlight of Seneca is Godwin’s voice. While Eric Heywood (Son Volt, Ray LaMontagne & the Pariah Dogs) on pedal steel and Ben Townsend (of Hillbilly Gypsies) on fiddle and banjo, among others, provide excellent accompaniment, the former WVU football player’s rare vocal talents shine here.
Many people hold misconceptions about West Virginians. Seneca will clear more than a few of those up. And if you didn’t believe that a West Virginian could make a slickly produced country album, you absolutely will now.