Various Artists

West of Memphis: Voices for Justice


Rating: 3 stars

A companion to the documentary “West of Memphis,” the Amy Berg-directed depiction of the plight of the West Memphis Three – Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelly, who spent more than 18 years in prison for crimes they were later proven not to have committed – “Voices for Justice” gathers performances from the core group of music community activists who rallied around the West Memphis Three’s cause during their imprisonment.

Intermingled with various solo turns, impromptu “all-star band” collaborations and previously unreleased live recordings are smartly chosen bits of the film’s original score, a haunting collection of themes composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis of the Bad Seeds.

The compilation holds up quite well as an album, the thematically linked pieces serving to underscore the sense of moral and ethical outrage surrounding the case. Things start with a harrowing edge, as Henry Rollins reads a letter sent to him by the imprisoned Echols in 2003; “Death Row Letter Year 9” finds Rollins’ recitation placed atop a theme from the Cave/Ellis score, and it’s an evocative, deeply moving piece. Erstwhile Dixie Chick Natalie Maines deepens the intensity of mood with a surprisingly visceral take on Pink Floyd’s searing “Mother,” joined by Ben Harper on lap steel guitar. Lucinda Williams then brings a jailhouse desperation to the swampy blues of her 2006 song “Joy,” rerecorded with some new lyrics specifically for this project.

The first of the “supergroups” – Camp Freddy, featuring Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction and others – gamely gets its glam rock on with a delicious romp through David Bowie’s “The Jean Genie,” with ample time set aside for some glitter-soaked guitar work from Navarro. Next up, the hilariously christened Tonto’s Giant Nuts – Johnny Depp and his pal Bruce Witkin – brings a beautifully creepy slant to Mumford and Sons’ “Little Lion Man,” a favorite song of Echols’ during the latter part of his imprisonment. Speaking of creepy, West Memphis Three supporter Marilyn Manson is the king of that category, and his goth-glam-techno romp through Carly Simon’s slab of AM gold, “You’re So Vain,” is deliciously decadent.

Perhaps the most high-profile and consistently vocal member of the West Memphis Three-supporting music community, Eddie Vedder, provides the album’s highest point right smack in the middle of the proceedings with “Satellite.” This one’s a heartbreaker. With only multitracked ukuleles for company, Vedder delivers a deeply passionate vocal dripping in empathy and compassion – he wrote the song as part of a collection of tunes he penned and gifted to Echols and his girlfriend Lorri Davis in 2000.

Happily, there’s not a dog among the rest of the album’s tracks, with other highlights including Citizen Cope’s sultry blues/hip-hop hybrid “DFW,” Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells” and Patti Smith’s riveting live rendition of “Wing” standing tallest. A beautiful collection of songs recorded for all the right reasons.

– Jeff Miers



Diamond In the Rough


Rating: 3 stars

Different generations of Philly’s old-school rap scene made a handsome showing in 2012. In a year that saw Beanie Sigel releasing a minor hit before heading back to prison and Schoolly D touring with Public Enemy, having Freeway back in action is a bonus. Like his pal Beans, Freeway was a member of Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella family in the early 2000s and stayed hard throughout the decade and its four solo releases.

“Diamond in the Ruff” proves that highly volatile Freeway is still the stoic iceman when it comes to rapping and rhyming. With steel, busy beats behind him, “No Doubt” is nail hard and just a little Lil Wayne-y. “Ghetto Street” is good and ghostly, but a bit of a gangster retread. When you’re the hard guy, staying bad forever can become a grind, especially when you’re an acknowledged peaceful Muslim. That could be why Freeway has added a dose of coy and clever humor to his menacing, low-voiced rants. The romping (and Just Blaze-produced) “Early” finds Free toying naughtily with morning sexuality (“she just played karaoke on my pokey”), while “Sweet Temptation” allows him to make light of MCs with tight slacks and pseudo-African allegiances. Fun.

– A.D. Amorosi,

Philadelphia Inquirer


Boyd Lee Dunlop

The Lake Reflections: Solo Piano Reflections

[B Sharp Records]

Rating: 3 stars

“Kick The Critic Out” is the title of one of the musical streams-of-consciousness on Boyd Lee Dunlop’s suprisingly lovely new set of piano soliloquies. Maybe that’s because critics are the ones who will instantly recognize the chord changes of Matt Dennis’ “Angel Eyes” in the skeleton of the tune (they’re not even hidden, for pity’s sake).

That is how Dunlop works in these ultra-personal streams of musical consciousness. In a tune that Dunlop calls “America the Peaceful,” you’ll hear, in passing, clear references to “America the Beautiful.” In “Kick the Critic Out” you’ll hear Matt Dennis, in another tune you’ll hear the changes of “Cry Me a River” struggling to announce themselves and in still another the rich chromaticism of “Deep Purple.”

And that’s the point of these Proustian musical explorations; they’re an old man’s fantasias on music half and fully remembered. In his first disc – a trio affair – what Dunlop was doing wasn’t a quarter as interesting as the young Buffalo-connected producers (Brendan Bannon and Allen Farmelo) who found the Buffalo piano-playing brother of the great drummer Frankie Dunlop and wanted the world to celebrate their discovery as much as they did. It was a great story, which is why the New York Times went along with them, even if the music on that first disc wasn’t nearly as interesting as the story.

Because the second one is a set of solo lucubrations, where the pianist is responsible only to his producers (and no other musicians), this is vastly more interesting. By the time you get through his musical remembrances of tunes past (none but “America the Beautiful” mentioned anywhere in the disc), it all becomes lovely and rather moving in its way.

– Jeff Simon


Daughn Gibson

All Hell

[White Denim]

Rating: 3 stars

Josh Martin spent more than a decade drumming in punk and hard rock bands in central Pennsylvania, including in Allentown’s Pearls and Brass, but you wouldn’t know it from “All Hell,” his debut under the pseudonym Daughn Gibson. The album is a unique blend of deep country melodies and sample-based instrumentation.

Gibson fell in love with country music when he worked as a long-haul truck driver, and his writing adapts the genre’s classic strain of character-driven hard-luck narratives, with empathetic songs about being an old man in a young girl’s world, about writing a song about rain on the highway, about bad guys who grow up to be “totally worthless.”

His resonant, dramatic baritone calls to mind Waylon Jennings, Lee Hazlewood and Scott Walker, but the music owes more to contemporary studio obsessives like James Blake, the Magnetic Fields or Grimes, with spooky textures and sparse electronic beats mingling with acoustic guitars and piano.

– Steve Klinge,

Philadelphia Inquirer