The roots-rock three-piece will play an outdoor, socially distanced record release show for its new album at Ace of Cups on Friday

Lou Poster said that from childhood he’s had it in mind to tell the story of the people in the mining town of Fairmont, West Virginia, from which he comes. “It’s definitely an idea I’ve had since I was a kid, growing up watching this giant mansion in the center of town overlooking the company houses,” Poster said by phone recently from his property in Athens County, where he’s lived since early August. “I think seeing that set me on a path when I was very young.”

Now, more than two decades after Poster dropped out of college at West Virginia University and moved to Columbus, where he still maintains a residence and rehearsal space, the musician returns to his hometown with Loveridge Is Burning, the sophomore album from his roots-rock three-piece Drift Mouth. 

Some of the songs on the new album date back more than 15 years, including the title track, which Poster originally wrote as a retirement gift for his father, a third-generation miner who worked for Consolidation Coal in West Virginia for 37 years. Poster attributed the lengthy gestation period required of the songs in part to “the long process of becoming a writer,” during which he said he worked to catch his skillset up to his vision for the album. 

“The holdup was becoming a better storyteller, learning what you can edit out and not lose the thread,” said Poster, who will join Drift Mouth bandmates Jess Kauffman (bass/backing vocals) and David Murphy (drums) for a socially distanced outdoor record release show at Ace of Cups at 7 p.m. this Friday, Nov. 20. “It’s learning what you don’t have to say, so you’re not beating people over the head, and so you’re giving them just enough to hang onto that they can populate the story with their own experiences.”

As a songwriter, Poster has long taken a more narrative approach. In his previous band, Grafton, most of the songs started as short stories. “And then I stole from myself to make the song,” said Poster, who has yet to release any of his fiction writing, though he intends to at some point in the future.

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Where Drift Mouth’s debut album, Little Patch of Sky, from 2018, favored character sketches such as “The Ballad of Frank Hayes,” the true story of a horse trainer who dreamed of becoming a jockey, the songs on Loveridge are comparatively personal, shaped by family history, as well as the weight the history of a region can exude on its present. Throughout, Poster marries these elements, weaving together tracks such as “Iris,” a gut punch of a tune informed by his grandmother’s struggles with Alzheimer’s disease, and “The Ghost of Paul Weaver,” which explores how mining companies could gradually suck the blood from a town, leaving them husks of their former selves.

Title track “Loveridge Is Burning” incorporates elements of both, linking Poster’s family tree with a series of tragedies that unfolded at and near Loveridge Mine, as well as the way life under the ground can slowly grind a “man’s back into ash,” as Poster sings on the tune.

“My family mined that sinkhole for three generations," Poster said. "My great grandfather … was working the No. 9 the day that it blew up. That’s the same [coal] seam that Loveridge was mining; it’s only a couple of miles away. … [My family] still has a good amount of acreage there in West Virginia, and that memorial to No. 9 is right over the ridge from where I spent most of my time. That piece of the country and that part of the state are very important to me.”

Poster said he knew early on that a life in the mines wasn’t for him, mostly because his father would tell him repeatedly that it wasn’t. Yet when Poster dropped out of college at WVU, a stint he described as "living in the dorms for nine months," he assumed he would wind up working the mines since his hometown offered few other options to earn a steady paycheck. “So when I left college I thought I’d be moving back home and doing something I didn’t want to do,” he said, “and instead I moved to Columbus and started a band.”

Though Loveridge is undeniably steeped in the past — Poster attributed this in part to long-held interests, recounting the time he won the Golden Horseshoe as a child, an award given in recognition of a knowledge of West Virginia history — it’s also intrinsically linked to the present.

“The way the coal companies treated people, it’s not just then. And it’s not just coal companies; it’s Amazon and Walmart,” Poster said. “And you can watch that play out now as surely as you could in the 1920s, and as surely as you’ll be able to 100 years from now.

“And I think that’s a big part of this. It’s a story that seems antiquated, like a history lesson, but it’s happening now. It’s happening in your face. Those ills exist every minute, and they’ll exist every minute of tomorrow. And I don’t know how to wake people up to that. … But I think if this record works, and if I did my job right, it can still speak to people right now.”