2020 – Music Maker Relief Foundation
By Phillip Smith; Sep. 26, 2020
The work of Freeman Vines, a North Carolina-based bluesman/artist/luthier, is the focus of a new book called Hanging Tree Guitars published by Bitter Southerner. The title is a reference to a series of guitars in which Vines made using wood from a known lynching tree. The guitars are fascinating and incredible pieces of art. The book features tintype photos by Timothy Duffy, along with an essay by Lonnie Holley, and interviews with Vines. Music Maker Relief Foundation, a non-profit organization which helps support impoverished musicians, has released a twelve-track album of various artists to serve as a companion piece to the book. It truly is a splendid collection of blues and gospel music.
Leading this collection off is Rufus McKenzie’s “Slavery Time Blues”. This is harmonica blues that cuts right to the bone as McKenzie creates a vivid visual relaying stories of his grandparents who were born as slaves. Born in Perry Georgia, the same town as McKenzie, James Davis delivers his instrumental “Turning Point” in bare-bones fashion with just electric guitar and snare. Its hypnotic rhythm embeds itself, like an earworm into my subconscious. Guitar Gabriel sings of hard times in “Southland Blues” a striking song gently played on acoustic guitar with a lovely piano accompaniment. Adolphus Bell gets my full attention on “Black Man’s Dream”, as he speaks of change, powerfully queueing up his meaningful words in a beautiful poetic cadence. This one he makes sure to mention is dedicated to the late, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hearing John Lee Zeigler on acoustic guitar play “John Henry” is intoxicating. His unique style makes for an amazing listen.
The first half of the recording, being aligned with the Blues, leaves the remainder focused on Gospel. The Glorifying Vines Sisters from Eastern North Carolina bring the house down with the vibrant and uplifting “Get Ready”. It’s so different to hear “Glory Glory” played on steel guitar, but that is a good thing. Elder Anderson Johnson absolutely tears it up on this traditional gospel song, and makes it his own. When Johnny Ray Daniels digs in to “Somewhere to Lay My Head”, I truly want to stand up and dance. It brings a joy to my heart. One couldn’t pick a better song to bring this to a close than with “Amazing Grace”. With a weathered voice and acoustic guitar, James ‘Guitar Slim’ Stephens (1915-1989) sweetly performs this 240-year-old song. He takes it on with honor and gusto.
For more information about Hanging Tree Guitars, visit hangingtreeguitars.com .
For more information about Music Maker Relief Foundation, visit musicmaker.org .