Record Review - 3 December 02 2000

In this day and age, it's hard to imagine that a fondness for basic black and Metallica could warrant a death sentence. But that may be the case with Damien Echols, sentenced to die for the 1993 murders of three young boys; his co-defendants, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, got life in prison. As revealed in the documentaries Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Revelations: Paradise Lost 2, the teenagers were convicted of the gruesome crime because, their supporters believe, they had the misfortune to be the local freaks in small-town West Memphis, Ark.
The case was destined to get the goat of rebellious rockers, and 16 such artists contribute songs to Free the West Memphis 3. L7's custom-composed "Boys in Black" takes the case head-on, while others offer more oblique comments, such as Kelley Deal's bizarre but enjoyable cover of Pantera's "Fucking Hostile" or Tom Waits' woebegone "Rains On Me." Rocket From the Crypt, the Supersuckers, Eddie Vedder, Zeke, the Murder City Devils and Killing Joke show up just to rock in solidarity. Steve Earle, who knows a thing or two about life in prison, sums up the best reason to support the WM3 with the opening "The Truth." As a lonesome banjo twangs, Earle steps inside a convict's skin for a brief stretch of hard time, and warns us solid citizens that fear makes us "no less a prisoner," just because we "hold the key."