Companion album to book of the same name (published on Bitter Southerner) on the guitars and artwork of Freeman Vines
Music Maker Relief Foundation has confirmed the release of a new compilation album sacred soul and blues Hanging Tree Guitars, out September 25, to accompany the release of the book of the same name. The book, which will be published by Bitter Southerner and released September 1, focuses on the work of Freeman Vines, an eastern North Carolina bluesman/luthier/grio/philosopher, who made a series of guitars from a tree used for lynchings. The book includes tintype photographs by Timothy Duffy, an essay by artist/musician Lonnie Holley, and interviews with Vines conducted over a five-year period, edited by folklorist Zoe Van Buren.
Two tracks on the album are previously unreleased: the newly recorded Johnny Ray Daniels’ “Somewhere To Lay My Head” and Faith & Harmony’s “Victory.” Meanwhile, the Glorifying Vines Sisters’ “Get Ready,” from a 1977 single, has never been available digitally. The other recordings span almost 30 years, with the earliest from 1991 and the most recent from this year. Produced by Timothy Duffy and Aaron Greenhood, ‘Hanging Tree Guitars’ is drawn from the archives of Music Maker Relief Foundation, which has released almost 170 albums and has many more in its vaults. Liner notes by North Carolina folklorist Will Boone, likening Vines’ guitars to the makeshift creation of music that spoke their truth, accompany the album. Hanging Tree Guitars is sequenced for the blues songs to come first, followed by the sacred soul music.
Though the blues is often thought of as a music of subtextual subversion, these recordings show a strain of the music not intended for commercial record labels that tackles race relations head on. This parallels such examples as Big Bill Broonzy’s midcentury work recorded by Alan Lomax and later for Folkways Records discussing race whereas his earlier Bluebird Records label songs did not.
The musicians share their personal stories, viewpoints, and family histories. Rufus McKenzie’s “Slavery Time Blues,” powerfully. sung accompanied only by his harmonica, is a testimony “well, you know, they keep telling me that this country is free. Gonna be some change in the white house. People don’t see no freedom here for me.” Adolphus Bell dedicates his “Black Man’s Dream” to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He sings, “I dreamed a black man stood up and start talking and said I came to America without a passport. He said, ever since then, I’ve been treated like a dog…. But I’m still a man and lord knows it’s true…. If you don’t put a end to this once and for all, I’m afraid everybody in America’s gonna fall. Change, America, change.” John Lee Ziegler’s avant/drone blues with his falsetto vocals is mesmerizing.
Guitar Gabriel inspired the founding of the Foundation when Tim Duffy located him in 1991 and began to record and back him up. Gabriel sings, “People talk about slavery time. I believe it’s happening right now.” He had previously played with Bo Diddley, King Curtis, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, and Big Boy Crudup, released an album in 1970 (‘My South, My Blues,’ later rereleased by Jambalaya Records in 1988), and, following the founding of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, performed at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. He had learned from his father, who recorded with harmonica great Sonny Terry and Piedmont blues legend Blind Boy Fuller. Offbeat Magazine has called his music “damn good,” praising his “smooth, melodic slide guitar style that borrowed from the Carolina’s blues and spiritual traditions.”
Siblings of Freeman Vines, The Glorifying Vines Sisters shared the stage with the likes of the Mighty Clouds of Joy and the Swanee Quintet. The group made their first recordings in the mid-1970s, and these 45s still sound fresh. They recently recorded sides for Bible & Tire Recordings and Freeman has played guitar with the group in the past. Faith & Harmony and Johnny Ray Daniels contribute joyous group recordings. Guitar Slim Stephens, who introduced Duffy and Gabriel, closes the album with his deeply felt solo acoustic rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Hanging Tree Guitars Track Listing
Rufus McKenzie – Slavery Time Blues
James Davis – Turning Point
BIshop Dready Manning – Hard Luck & Trouble
Guitar Gabriel – Southland Blues
Adolphus Bell – Black Man’s Dream
John Lee Zeigler – John Henry
Dr. G.B. Burt – Clock on the Wall
The Glorifying Vines Sisters – Get Ready
Faith & Harmony – Victory
Elder Anderson Johnson – Glory, Glory
Johnny Ray Daniels – Somewhere to Lay My Head
Guitar Slim Stephens – Amazing Grace