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West of Memphis: Voices for Justice
CD on Sony Records
Cat No: LC12723 , Stk Ref 79756

Released on: 02 February 2013

Magazine Review
'West of Memphis: Voices For Justice’ is the soundtrack to the recent documentary film, which tells the story of the West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, whom were wrongfully arrested and convicted for the murder of three eight year old boys in 1993.

Each of the West Memphis Three spent over eighteen years in jail, while outside mounting evidence pointed to their innocence and led to an outpouring support from the music community and beyond. The film was produced by Peter Jackson (‘The Lord of the Rings’/’King Kong’) and Damien Echols himself.

‘West of Memphis: Voices of Justice’ is a tribute album for the continued fight for the exoneration of the Memphis Three. As an album, it is not a record that is easy listening, and which from the start is often harrowing.

Henry Rollins opens the album, reading a letter from Damien Echols entitled ‘Death Row Letter, Year 9’ while backed by the main soundtrack suppliers whom are Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Their music is very sad and based around violin and keyboards, which instantly serve as the background for the words spoken by Rollins. That letter tells of the conditions in which Damien served his sentence, and how he was transferred to a maximum security prison at 2 a.m., where the living conditions were beyond poor.

Natalie Maines decided to record a version of Pink Floyd's ‘Mother’ for the album, which is stripped down for the most part, before becoming more involved towards the end of the track.

Lucinda Williams re-recorded her 2006, song ‘Joy’ after playing it at Neil Young's yearly benefit concert. ‘Joy’ sounds like an early abrasive PJ Harvey and has a raw blues feel. She is backed on it by a band that sound like the early Plastic Ono Band.

Camp Freddy are a super group led by Jane's Addiction guitarist, Dave Navarro. They cover David Bowie's ‘Jean Genie’ for the compilation. They do a decent cover, which while it doesn’t better the original is nevertheless a fine reading.

Tonto's Giant Nuts features Johnny Depp and Bruce Witkin, and they cover Mumford and Sons ‘Little Lion Man’. The original folk version was an inspiration to Echols towards the end of his sentence, but this version is a lot fuzzier.

Marilyn Manson appears next with a cover of Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’. Depp appears again this time on guitar, and they metal it up into a Goth classic, which is very heavy and absolutely wonderful.

Band of Horses deliver a live track, ‘Dumpster World’, which comes from ‘Mirage Rock’, their album of last year. This has a slow country rock feel and sounds like a muddy Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Citizen Cope delivers ‘DFW’ which has a modern street swagger to it, while Eddie Vedder's track ‘Satellite’ is very lo-fi and acoustic and sounds like an unplugged R.E.M.

Bill Carter's ‘Anything Made of Paper’ runs over the end credits, and is based on a comment made to Bill by Damien Echolls. It is like an early Dylan number but without the whining voice. The White Buffalo meanwhile deliver ‘House of Pain’, which is like a very moody David Gray number.

Bob Dylan, the king of the protest song, could have added a new track which would have increased sales of this much more, but offers instead ‘Ring Them Bells’, from 1989's ‘Oh, Mercy’, which, however, fits the tone of the rest of the album.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis provide ‘Score Suite’ which runs throughout the film. Concluding the album are again Tonto's Giant Nuts, with Johnny Depp reading ‘Death Row Letter, Year 16 ½’, another letter from Damien Echolls, which is even more harrowing than his Year 9 letter, Depp gives the letter real soul with a piece about being chained up for over 17 years.

The CD has an extra track which features Patti Smith, whom played a benefit for the cause back in 2010, and who provides a reading of her track, ‘Wing’.

‘West of Memphis: Voices For Justice’ is a challenging and thought-provoking album, which is there for a purpose rather than simply as a slice of entertainment.

Anthony Strutt


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