Various Artists ‘West of Memphis: Voices for Justice' (Legacy)
After spending more than 18 years in prison for murders they apparently didn't commit when they were teenagers in 1993, the men known as the “West Memphis Three” were finally released from prison in August 2011 in the face of mounting evidence of their innocence and a flood of public protest, especially from celebrity artists and particularly from the musicians participating in the “Voices for Justice” album.
This is a collection of music from or inspired by “West of Memphis,” a new documentary on the case produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy), Amy Berg (“Deliver Us from Evil”) who also directs, Lorri Davis and Damien Echols, who is one of the West Memphis Three.
The original, darkly atmospheric score is by the Australian songwriting team of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, the Dirty Three), which serves as background music as Henry Rollins — an early activist in the cause — reads a wrenching letter written to him by Echols from his maximum lockdown cell in the ninth year of his imprisonment. It is a shocking account of leg irons, attack dogs and solitary confinement delivered the way only Rollins can with his calm spoken-word talents.
Natalie Maines, a staunch backer of the West Memphis Three, delivers a heartbreaking cover of Pink Floyd's “Mother” with Ben Harper on lap steel. Lucinda Williams offers up a new and improved, angrier version of her own “Joy” with loads of electric guitar activity.
Camp Freddy, Dave Navarro's notorious cover band, does a reworking of David Bowie's “Jean Genie” that sounds more like a blues-rock version of “I'm a Man,” Johnny Depp's new assemblage known as Tonto's Giant Nuts does a rolling and tumbling reading of Mumford & Sons' “Little Lion Man,” and Marilyn Manson rolls through a thunderous rendition of Carly Simon's “You're So Vain” with Depp sawing away magnificently on electric guitar.
Band of Horses drifts through a live version of its own “Dumpster World” in a multicolored mood reminiscent of rustic Grateful Dead, and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder's “Satellite,” which he warbles over his own ukulele accompaniment, is a moving love song dedicated to Echols and Lorrie Davis, the woman Echols married while he was still in prison under a death sentence.
Other highlights include Bill Carter's “Anything Made of Paper,” Citizen Cope's “DFW” and Bob Dylan's “Ring Them Bells.”
Powerful and effective protest music is still alive and well, and collected here on an album that will in part directly benefit the West Memphis Three, who through legal technicalities have not yet been completely exonerated of the crime they were accused of committing — the mutilation and murder of three little boys. You have to wonder, through all the noise, if there's any real effort afoot to find the actual killer, or killers.
— Gene Triplett