Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Album Review: Various Artists - Hanging Tree Guitars

Various Artists
Hanging Tree Guitars
**** out of *****

A fascinating blues and gospel record started with the haunting premise of Freeman Vines, who is captured on the cover. Mr. Vines makes guitars out of the wood of trees used to lynch black men in the American South. This album, Hanging Tree Guitars, (which is just part of the artistic statement around the project) captures the spirit of the black struggle in the United States through the blues and gospel offerings. These songs were recorded by Timothy Duffy who has been capturing artists sounds throughout the south since the early 90's.

The first half focuses on the blues and the struggle against oppression, racism and hatred. Rufus McKenzie recounts a dehumanizing story on his "Slavery Time Blues" with a harmonica and pain while the marching snare and snake like grooving electric guitar of James Davis "Turning Point" is intoxicating. The powerful female vocal performance from Mother Marie Manning on "Hard Luck & Trouble" and Adolphus Bell's spoken word poetic "Black Man's Dream" (dedicated to MLK) use dynamite lyrical performances while "Southland Blues" by Guitar Gabriel sums up the direction connection from slavery to modern times with simple, direct strumming.

The album reaches a musical peak with Dr. Burt's "Clock on the Wall" which uses sweet soul strums and glorious singing about universal love and loss. When Dr. Burt starts cooing in a high register it just seals the deal.

For the second half of the album the mood shifts into the gospel salvation and redemption side of the coin. While the pain and suffering is there, the church and hope of a better beyond propels the full on gospel of The Glorifying Vine Sisters "Get Ready" before the acappella spiritual "Victory" is delivered by Faith & HarmonyElder Anderson Johnson laid down his burden on the uplifting "Glory, Glory" while a funky organ propels Johnny Ray Daniels "Somewhere To Lay My Head".  

The affecting project was supported by Music Maker Recordings, which is a 501c3 non-profit, founded to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it, ensuring their voices will not be silenced by poverty and time. Hanging Tree Guitars speaks to the horrors of slavery, racism and hatred and the urge to fly above and beyond them by those who suffer their wrath. Unfortunately those pains are just as alive today as they were when many of these artists were young. 

Support the artists, buy the album, stream it on bandcamp or below and peep some video:

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