As musician in residence for the United Mine Workers of America, Tom’s songs were instrumental in winning back the pensions and health benefits of 18,000 retired coal miners in 2013. Tom crafted songs that reflected the struggles of these retirees and traveled and performed for tens of thousands across the U.S. at their Fairness at Patriot rallies.
Tom’s newest release River, Rails or Road includes many of these songs and includes a film documenting Tom’s humble beginnings in West Virginia.
The UMWA continues to rely on Breiding to deliver poignant and topical compositions today, and it isn’t the first time Breiding has been called upon to capture important social/historical events in song. In 2008 he was recruited by Calliope (Pittsburgh’s Folk Society) to oversee, write and produce songs for When We Shine, a compilation CD to celebrate the city of Pittsburgh’s 250 year history, and his 2009 release, The Unbroken Circle: Songs of the West Virginia Coalfields spent 16 weeks in the top 100 of the Americana charts, topping at #55. The album was endorsed by country music legend Tom T. Hall and Grammy Award winning songwriter Tim O’Brien. It received over 3,000 reported spins on American radio stations, made Robert Christgau’s Consumer Guide (Dean of American Rock Critics), and received highly favorable reviews from several publications including New York Times and Sing Out Magazine.
Tom Breiding’s songwriting career began in 1991 when he was signed by two-time CMA Producer of the year recipient Tom Collins. Breiding was a staff writer at Collins Music Corporation, which was the largest independent publishing house on Nashville’s storied Music Row during the days when independent publishers thrived in the country music industry.
Tom Breiding has recorded 13 albums under his own name. In 2011, two songs from Breiding’s Beauty in Paradise, an album inspired by his extensive touring travels, were featured for seven consecutive weeks on the playlist of Echoes, a syndicated radio program broadcast on more than 500 radio stations across North America.
"River, Rails or Road" New album and film
"River, Rails or Road reflects Tom’s admiration of his home state, his respect for the triumphs, hardships and dedication of the labor movement, and for the lives of those whose work produces the energy that has powered this nation’s progress and expansion for over two centuries.
Several tracks echo the stories of men and women whom Tom has known. Others, like the opening Ludlow commemoration songs, tell the stories that history has all but forgotten -- stories that sink so deep into a person’s psyche that they have to be told again; in Tom’s case, through song. They are the often forgotten tales from the coal camps of Colorado, the mountains and hollows of West Virginia and the abandoned, decaying city streets of Ohio River steel towns.
Tom has spent the last three years working for the Appalachian Institute at Wheeling Jesuit University, work that has led him, guitar in tow, into the coal towns and backroads of "West by God Virginia." The album’s title track, River, Rails or Road,was the summation of a month of travel between Ohio and Mingo counties while I trained Tom for his position at the Institute. The steel mill where my father worked had just closed its doors for the final time, and in the state’s capital, our conversations about the mill closing were echoed by laid-off miners rallying against a coal company’s declaration that profits meant more than people.
That rally, in September 2012, would mark a turning point in Tom's music, as he was asked then to lend his voice to the miners’ cause. Having previously released The Unbroken Circle, chronicling the stories of West Virginia’s coal mining history, Tom’s new songs echoed from the depths of the United Mine Workers of America’s efforts to protect the pensions and livelihoods of those the coal company deemed expendable. Tom traveled with the UMWA in the years that followed, listening, supporting and validating their work through his songs.
Tom’s involvement with the UMWA is evident in River, Rails and Road. The album blends the miners’ tales with those born of Tom’s own experiences growing up in the Ohio Valley and bearing witness to the effects of a decline in industry and population. Tom’s songs reflect the tension, apprehension and joy of a region where hard work, family and honest living are the markers of a life well lived. Where others glorify the honest, hard-working man with ballads of beer and heartache, Tom’s music makes apparent a distinction between the distant idealization of the working man and the real life of the working man; the distinction between country -- and coal country."
- Julia Flint, Athens, OH