Rough Guide to Native America – album review

Various Artists – Rough Guide to Native America (Rough Guide)
CD
Available 25 September 2012

Rough Guide gives you the lowdown on what you need to know about the music of Native America – covering more genres than you might expect and with a bonus disc to boot! 

To start off with, I like the Rough Guide’s brand. I have a shelf filled with Rough Guide books and they’ve not let me down. So, that’s a good start.

Basically, this is a collection of music by Native American/Canadian artists. There are some good sounds here, some interesting artists and a few surprises.

One pleasant surprise was the inclusion of Errol “C-Weed” Ranville, a veteran of the Canadian country music scene who is from where I now live, Winnipeg.

He’s been around for as long as I can remember (37 years in music according to his website) and has always had a big Native following. “Run as One” is a great Canadian style country rock song, bookended with traditional native singing.

I found this YouTube video of C-Weed doing this song and I just have to share it because it is so damn Canadian! This is summer in Canada, at a free local event. This is what I love:

Another surprise and a new thing learned: The album opener is “Oti Nakin” by Asani, a group I hadn’t heard of until now even though they are from a city I used to live in, Edmonton. They performed at the Vancouver Olympics and for the Queen. Who knew?

The song is absolutely lovely, with beautiful harmonies, a sparse drum beat in the back and lyrics sung in Woodland Cree. I bet the Queen loved it.

My favourite in this collection is “As the Rez Turns” by Pipestone. It’s a traditional drum song, with a limited amount of lyrics in English, talking about the soap opera of life on the reserve. It cracks me up. Reservations usually are small towns or have small towns in them, and as anyone who lives in a small town knows, life is not always as sleepy as it may seem. Now, imagine being on a reserve miles in the bush, where there are no roads. I’ve heard things can get pretty weird at times.

Other artists featured include R. Carlos Nakai & Keola Beamer, Blackfoot, and Clan/Destine. Also, there is Ashok, who is Anishinaabe (a word with several different spellings), Cree and”¦um, Hindu? Then you have Casper Loma Da Wa who plays”¦Native Reggae? Didn’t expect that one!

Then there is Blackfire, a Native punk band who, in this case, does an excellent traditional drum song called “American Indian Movement Song”. Then Pima Express does “Crazy Spinning Chicken”, which is pretty much a straight up accordion dominated Tex-Mex sounding tune. So, it is an interesting collection to say the least.

One downfall I see is that it doesn’t include any hip hop or urban sounds. There is a strong connection between a lot of Native kids and African-American kids. It makes sense since the two groups face similar issues; often having to deal with poverty, addiction, racism, discrimination and violence. So, I feel this album drops the ball when it comes to this. Instead, they seemed to have focused mostly on an older generation of artists and a world music appreciating audience.

When all is said and done, this is a good collection of music. It’s enjoyable to listen to if you’re looking for something a wee bit different. It could be broader, like I said, if it included more urban sounds, but there is only so much that can be done with a collection of music. I’m sure there are hundreds of artists they could have included.

There is a bonus disc by Pura Fe, which is an excellent album unto itself. It’s a nice combination of Americana, folk, blues, bluegrass, Tex-Mex and traditional Native sounds. Reading her bio is a rather jaw dropping experience; her accomplishments and awards, both domestic and internationally, reflect her talent.

According to her press kit; “Pura Fé is a founding member of the internationally renowned native woman’s a capella trio, Ulali, and is recognized for creating a new genre, bringing Native contemporary music to the forefront of the mainstream music industry.” And that’s just skimming the surface.

Her instrument of choice is a slide guitar, which is one I love. On this album, there are also drums, banjo, shakers, blues guitar and plenty of harmony singing.

“Red, Black and Blue” taps into the political urban/hip hop that I wrote about earlier. “Condor Meets The Eagle” has Spanish and a Native American spoken word over her singing, some traditional flutes, Spanish guitar and drums that create a unique song. “Hard Time Killing Floor” is pretty straight up blues and is done so well (again, quite political, and this YouTube video has the lyrics written underneath)!

And “Stand Up for Human Pride” is, once again, a very political song (see a trend here?), mixing in some hip hop as well, this time done by her. So, there are some nice surprises and sounds.

This is a strong, soulful, well-crafted album by an obviously passionate woman. At times, she evokes artists like Gillian Welch, Susan Tedeschi, the Indigo Girls or even Janis Joplin. But, in the end, this is a unique album that cannot easily be compared to anyone or anything else because of all of the different influences that have been blended so seamlessly. As a result, in my opinion, this is a stronger album than the one that it is a bonus disc to.

To sum up, presented are two excellent albums in one attractive package. There is a lot of good stuff to listen to here, so Kudos to Rough Guide for putting this altogether.

It is a collection that is well worth checking out, especially if you are into World music, although in Canada we just call this stuff music.

All words by Chris Hearn. You can read more from Chris on LTW here.

 

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