Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Various Artists - Hanging Tree Guitars (Music Maker Foundation, 2020)

Freeman Vines is a guitar maker, an artist who is looking for a way to tell stories within his instruments as well as the music that they create. To that end he took possession of lumber from a tree that had been used in the lynching of an African-American man. Each instrument he constructed from that wood is completely unique and they are used by the musicians on this album to create gusty and defiant music that encompasses a wide range from deep blues, soul music and gospel. The music brought forth from these instruments is frequently amazing, like the stark guitar playing that is met by the harrowing story of deep blues where a starving sharecropper goes to his boss man in desperation for food only be made to eat it out of the dog’s bowl. The haunting deep blues of this song along with the opener “Slavery Time” by Rufus McKenzie bring home this history and passion of courageous men and women who continued to play music regardless of the cost. The struggle these musicians have faced over the course of their hard won lives is very real, no more so than on the closing track “Amazing Grace” by Guitar Smith Stephens. His hands have been worked to the bone and he can barely form the notes on the guitar, but the ones he does make, accompanied the most heartfelt singing make for a harrowing and powerful performance. The music on this disc is lightened a bit by the pure gospel sounds of “Get Ready” by The Glorifying Vines with their beautiful voices urged forward by strong rhythmic guitar playing. On a whole this disc was wonderful to hear and a powerful statement that people can take back something that has seen so much evil like a lynching tree, and turn it into powerful instruments of healing. Hanging Tree Guitars - Music Maker Foundation.

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