Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Hanging Tree Guitars [Music Maker Relief Foundation, 2020]
A dozen solo or near-solo blues, gospel, and blues/gospel recordings dating back as far as 1991 not counting the Glorifying Vine Sisters' 1977 "Get Ready," most featuring guitars crafted by North Carolina luthier Freeman Vines that include some from black walnut that had its literal roots in a lynching tree. 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. Harsh or crooning, solo or unison, the music is occasionally embellished with modest piano or driven by drums, but voices and guitars prevail. Try the explicit opener "Slavery Time Blues" or the gospel-sweet lost-love "Clock on the Wall," a slow and keening "John Henry" or a fare-thee-well "Amazing Grace" so rough-hewn you'll play it again to make sure that was the song you just heard. And if you're like me you'll also want to read the eloquent as well as beautiful book that complements this perfectly timed project. All these citizens are set on telling the world how much their lives matter. A+