NPR Names Book to Best of 2020 List in Six Categories

Robert Christgau, known as the Dean of Rock Critics, has named Hanging Tree Guitars (Music Maker Relief Foundation) as his number one best album of 2020 on his Dean’s List. The album collects field recordings of Southern African American musicians made by the Music Music Maker Relief Foundation between 1991 and the present day as well as a 1977 single that’s never been released digitally before.

In his review of the album last fall, Christgau wrote, “Not only do all of these distinct Southern Black performers sound like they’ve long since internalized the sounds they make with their stalwart voices and dexterous hands, but from ‘Slavery Time Blues’ to ‘Amazing Grace’ almost all sing of injustice as if it’s been on their minds their entire lives. All these citizens are set on telling the world how much their lives matter. If you’re like me you’ll also want to read the eloquent as well as beautiful book that complements this perfectly timed project.”

NPR named the book of the same name, by Freeman Vines with Zoe Van Buren, as one of its top books of 2020 in a whopping six categories.

Freeman Vines, is a 78-year-old African American luthier and artist who has fashioned a series of guitars out of the wood from a lynching tree. His powerful book chronicles the eastern North Carolina artist/sculptor/guitarmaker’s journey through unspoken truths and includes Timothy Duffy’s striking tintype photographs and narrative by folklorist Zoe Van Buren. NPR’s Weekend Edition profiled Freeman in September.

Here’s what else we’re reading about the book and album:

“Haunting new book.”
–David Browne, Rolling Stone, August 26, 2020

“[A] singular man… each of his creations seems to embody a dance between life and death… The book is packed with fascinating details about Vines’ idiosyncratic approach to guitar-making, and about his early life in Jim Crow North Carolina, where a legacy of racist violence shaped his view of the world, and continues to exert a deep influence over his guitar designs… [accompanied by] remarkable photographs.”
–Ted Scheinman, Smithsonian Magazine, September 1, 2020

“A luthier and artist, he creates sculptural guitars so distinctive that they have become a traveling exhibition and are featured in a new book.”
–Patrice Gaines, NBC, October 8, 2020

“Gorgeously illustrated… poetic rumination… highlights the worst of endemic racism and ‘the art of resistance.’”
–Linda Laban, Variety, August 11, 2020

–Winnie Lee, Atlas Obscura, September 29, 2020

“Stark and moving… Elemental and raw, it’s an in-your-face look at race relations from an insider’s point of view.
-Grant Britt, No Depression, December 16, 2020 (album review)

“Evocative power that allows us to enter a time, a place, a life not our own so that we might grow to become more expansive in love and life.”
–Henry Carrigan, No Depression, September 17, 2020 (book review)

“Deeply moving.”
–Boing Boing, August 3, 2020

“Haunting… Each uniquely beautiful piece is strongly infused with a sense of place; subtly but firmly reclaiming history, and stealthily calling forth memory.”
–Nadine Matthews, Amsterdam News (NY), December 3, 2020

“Important insights about America’s racial divide… it expresses both the harsh realities of being Black and poor in the rural South and the extraordinary durability of spirit that drives men like Vines to keep creating… his story couldn’t be more relevant… Compelling story.”
–Lynne Margolis, American Songwriter, September 9, 2020

“Incredibly powerful… This multimedia project from Music Maker Relief Foundation is a harrowing look at the legacy of racial violence in America and a testament to the power of artistic creation.”
–Devon Leger, Folk Alley, August 7, 2020

“This powerful new collection accompanies the book of the same name… ”
–Josh Modell, Talkhouse, September 25, 2020

“Singular vision… Fair warning, the book’s subject matter and these guitars are deeper than what meets the eye… quite striking, attention-grabbing, and not exactly comforting… These ghostly, shockingly original handcarved guitars.”
–Tessa Jeffers, Premier Guitar, September 10, 2020

The Music Music Maker Relief Foundation was set up to “help the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music gain recognition and meet their day-to-day needs. Music Maker presents these musical traditions to the world so American culture will flourish and be preserved for future generations.” The foundation’s advisory board includes Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton and included the late B.B. King.

Hanging Tree Guitars - Small - Credit Timothy Duffy