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In 1994, a group of teenagers were convicted for the murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The children’s bodies, found hogtied and naked, were discovered in a wooded ditch known as the “Robin Hood Hills” and the three teens, Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, were accused of sacrificing the three children in a satanic ritual. The 2012 documentary, West of Memphis, follows the storyline of the original Paradise Lost film, as well as the two sequels, in documenting the case of the three teenagers and their arrest for the murders of 8 year olds, Christopher Byers, Steven Branch, and Michael Moore. The teens were eventually found guilty and Damien Echols was sentenced to death while Jessie Misskelley was sentenced to life in prison as well as two twenty year sentences and Jason Baldwin was also sentenced to life behind bars.
In 2010, new DNA evidence from the crime scene was brought into question, casting doubt on the original conviction. It was brought to trial and the three were released from prison as part of an Alford plea deal, circumstances during which the prosecution reserved the right to maintain innocence despite sufficient evidence secure the conviction. The three spent 18 years and 78 days in prison before their release.
Even more provocative than the documentary itself, bringing into question the effectiveness of the overall justice system, is the soundtrack to the film West of Memphis: Voices for Justice. With contributions from artists such as Lucinda Williams, Marilyn Manson, Eddie Vedder and Bob Dylan, the album is nothing short of a surprising and wonderful medley.
The album begins with a haunting reading of Damien Echols Death Row letter from his ninth year behind bars. The spoken letter as performed by Henry Rollins, delivers a haunting recount of life in prison on the edge of death row through Rollins’ disturbingly calm and distinctive voice.
Notable tracks include the edgy cover of Mumford & Sons hit “Little Lion Man” by Tonto’s Giant Nuts, featuring Johnny Depp and Bruce Witkin. This interesting collaboration perhaps made somewhat ironic by Depp’s upcoming role as Tonto in The Lone Ranger. This cover puts a somewhat darker spin on the track with heavier guitar licks and gravelly vocal effects.
Marilyn Manson also does what he does best, bringing a creepy tone to “You’re So Vain”. The song takes on a rather industrial sound accompanied with mechanical percussion and throaty bass lines.
The album also shows a somber side with acoustic tracks like Bill Carter’s “Anything Made of Paper” focusing on simple acoustic guitar, accordion and accented with piano, tambourine and solemn vocals. Band of Horses also tugs on your heartstrings with “Dumpster World”, a live recording with some soft electric guitar and longing vocal harmonies. This track jumps back into the passion of such an emotionally charged record with a pace change, bringing in some chugging guitar and speeding up the tempo with the percussion.
The album rounds out with another disturbing reading of Damien Echols Death Row Letter Year 16 ½ performed by Johnny Depp. Even more disturbing than the first, Depp recounts morbid life within cell walls with eerie detachment and vivid imagery.
With a great variety if musical highs and lows, West of Memphis is surprisingly a stand-out soundtrack, made only better by some of the artists involved and definitely worthy of a listen.