West of Memphis: Voices for Justice encourages hope, support

Written By Nicole Chynoweth

Some might say celebrities can make their voices heard a bit louder than others at times.

In the case of the West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin might say the voices of several filmmakers and notable musicians granted them freedom.

“West of Memphis,” a documentary released in November 2012, depicts the legal proceedings of the murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Ark. in 1993. Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin were arrested and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment for the crimes. After discrepancies in the investigation and newly recovered evidence, some believe the men were wrongfully convicted.

After the documentary’s release, artists such as Band of Horses, Eddie Vedder, and Bob Dylan felt compelled to contribute to clearing the names of the accused and continuing the fight for justice for the victims. Though Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin were freed from prison, they are not yet exonerated. West of Memphis: Voices for Justice is an album dedicated to raising awareness and support for the West Memphis Three. The tracks, a sort of post-film soundtrack, make for an appropriate arrangement of solemn yet hopeful music.

While the album features a wide assortment of genres and artists, including Natalie Maines and Marilyn Manson, the tone remains consistent. The soulful “DFW,” performed by Citizen Cope, pairs surprisingly well with with Tonto’s Giant Nuts’ cover of “Little Lion Man.” The sound throughout is grave, but a glimmering of fervent optimism comes through in a few songs, like in the cracks of Vedder’s voice on “Satellite” and in the graceful piano chords of Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells.” The album also includes Patti Smith’s rendition of “Wing” recorded at the Voices for Justice concert, hosted by Arkansas Take Action in 2010. The variety of aesthetic on the album enhances the artistic depth.

This album does not require its listener to know the details of the West Memphis Three case, but it does encourage questions about the case, the victims, the accused, the authorities, and why this particular group of artists deems it necessary to create an album for the cause. West of Memphis: Voices of Justice succeeds in not only presenting a cohesive mix of musical talent but also in provoking one to look further into the events and people associated with its namesake.