Native North America Vol. 1 (Review)

Nartive North America Vol. 1 cover jpeg

This is a release both commendable and highly recommended. The 2-CD set gathers material by Native American (most of them Canadian) songwriters and bands hardly known or remembered nowadays, certainly not by me, I hadn’t heard of a single artist on here before. It also was a conscious decision to focus on more little-known artists, so people like Buffy Sainte-Marie are missing.

The most widely known artist probably is Willie Dunn. He seems to have been something of a forerunner for many Native American artists and bands during that period. The background notes in the booklet for him introduces the reader to a highly prolific songwriter, filmmaker, coffee shop owner and painter. His amazing album opener  I Pity The Country was chosen to accompany the video trailer for this release which you can see here. It’s a highly loveable Folk-Rock song with captivating, acute and poetic lyrics and a fabulous melody.

The above mentioned, accompanying excellent 120 page (yes, 120) booklet not only provides extensive background info on each of the 20+ Artists/bands featured, and also shows the original album artworks (incl. the record labels) as well as providing the lyrics to all songs. In case of non-English language songs the original lyrics and their English translations are also included. I for one enjoy browsing through the booklet almost as much as I do listening to both CD’s, the life stories being told of most artists are utterly fascinating.

I assume the fact that a lot of songs on here were recorded on a rather limited budget contributes to many of them being somewhat sparsely arranged and acoustic guitars abound, which is of course absolutely fine by me. The time span these songs were recorded in and the places the artists hail from, also contributes to a large amount of Folk-influences found throughout the 2-CD’s

The simplicity of many of the arrangements suits the nature of this compilation of songs from the far reaches of the Canadian wilderness and places such as The Northwest Territories (Willie Thrasher), Nunavut (Alexis Utatnaq) and Nunavik in Northen Quebec (Sukluk) very well. It’s also worth bearing in mind the function these songs primarily served. None of the artists on here came out of a hip student scene such as the ones found on cities such as New York City or Boston. A lot of the people in these bands went to boarding schools, oftentimes far away from home, which for many of them must have meant a troublesome and difficult experience. If they stayed in or returned to their own communities, they could often be found playing social gatherings – which, considering many of them were deep in the bush or close to the arctic circle, certainly is a far cry from some arty music club.

Said simplicity however isn’t evident all too often when it comes to most songs’ lyrics. Sure, there are fun and rather light-hearted songs on here too, such as Sugluk’s Fall Away and I Didn’t Know or Sikumiut’s Utirumavung and Sikumiut (the latter is especially catchy and cute). The afore mentioned I Pity The Country might be the most eloquently realised indictment of all that’s been wrong when it comes to relationships between Native Americans and non-natives. But a whole lot of other songs on here touch on similar themes which also penetrate deep into the music and mood of the songs. Alexis Utatnaq’s Maqaivvigivalauqtavut and Ernest Monias’ Tormented Soul are prime examples for this. Added are a host of excellent examples of the Native American way of storytelling and crafting dreamlike lyrics. The deep spiritual sensibilities palpable on all three songs by Willie Thrasher, Winds Of Change by Lloyd Cheechoo, Silver River by Shingoose (poetry by Duke Redbird), just to name a few, make for a haunting listening experience. The sound of Neil Young from that time period is also not far away on a number of tracks, such as Silver River and especially the brilliant Dreams Of Ways by Brian Davey.

Other highlights for me are Groupe Folklorique Montagnais’ (incl. Philippe McKenzie whose melancholic and mysterious Mistashipu, sung in his native Innu-aimun language opens CD2 in convincing style) song Tshekuan Mak Tshetutamak, which is an amazing blend of a Folky guitar strum-along and tribal drums. Both of John Angaiak’s songs on here Hey, Hey, Hey, Brother and I Rock You To The Rhythm Of The Ocean are pieces of pure introspective singer-songwriter magic with his melancholic voice making them crawl deep into your heart. Peter Frank’s Little Feather is another especially fine Folk-Country hybrid with a lulling, affecting tune. Excellent stuff.These songs are just some examples of tracks on here I find noteworthy, I could list a whole lot more.

As mentioned at the beginning, I can’t recommend Native North America Vol. 1 highly enough. With 34 tracks it’s cock-full of mostly excellent songs, both varied in style and unified by a strong sense of musical enthusiasm and connection to the land these artists stem from. This altogether makes for a captivating listening experience, conjuring up images (in my mind at least) of stark Northern American landscapes and the people who have been inhabiting them for a long time and the challenges they have been facing for the past 150+ years.



Back Road Bound’s Favorite Songs Of 2014

To wrap up the year 2014 I made a mix with some of my most-loved songs released this year.

Follow the link below to hear them on Mixcloud

The Tracklist:

Willie Dunn : I Pity The Country (from Native North America Vol. 1)

Sun Kil Moon : Jim Wise (from Benji)

Conor Oberst : Night At Lake Unknown (from Upside Down Mountain)

Willy Mitchell : Call Of The Moose (from Native North America Vol. 1)

Luther Dickinson : Bar Band (from Rock’n’Roll Blues)

Hard Working Americans : Straight To Hell (from Hard Working Americans)

Wes Tirey : Come Home (The End Is Near Blues) (from O, Annihilator)

John Angaiak : Hey, Hey, Hey, Brother (from Native North America Vol. 1)

Lucinda Williams : Burning Bridges (from Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone)

Joe Henry : Grave Angels (from Invisible Hour)

Carrie Elkin & Danny Schmidt : Sky Picked Blue (from For Keeps)

Groupe Folklorique Montagnais : Tshekuan Mak Tshetutamak (from Native North America Vol. 1)

Native North America (Vol. 1 : Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country, 1966 – 1985)

This release touches some of my main concerns at the moment, music and Native American interest. I haven’t got the album yet, but have recently ordered it. I will be writing more about it once I have got the album and had the chance to engange with it properly. In the meantime, here’s a link to a short video on YouTube explaining what the project is about.

For more information, please also check the following link to the label website.

Chad Elliott : Same, Old Way

I don’t really know all too much about Chad Elliott’s musical work and don’t own his latest album Redemption Man which this track is taken from (yet), but I do know that he’s also a very talented visual artist. Judging from this splendid, relaxed and downright lovely song it’s hight time I rectify that (I will soon). The fact that it also features background vocals by Pieta Brown, who I also admire greatly, as you can tell from checking out this post or this one and was produced by Mr. Bo Ramsey, further add to the appeal this song holds for me.

Gene Clark : White Light

Gene Clark White Light Cover


Gene Clark: White Light

(1971 A&M Records, 2002 expanded re-release)

The first Gene Clark album I actually bought was his 1986 collaboration with The Textone’s Carla Olson So Rebellious A Lover. I also own the fine but somewhat messy compilation American Dreamer 1964 – 1974 which features all kinds of material he was involved in from that period such as his solo work, songs with The Byrds, The Gosdin Brothers and The Dillard & Clark Expedition. As I came back to that album quite often in the past few months, I recently bought White Light, regarded by many as his finest work. I bought the expanded version, re-released in 2002 and have to say that everybody involved in that project did a very good job on it. As I am a bit of a closet audiophile I am quite satisfied with how the album sounds – not exactly up to today’s standards, maybe, but considering this was originally recorded back in 1971 the sound is pretty good and clear.

Contrary to one of my friends who said to me that Gene Clark’s work is too depressive for him (‘unlike you, I don’t need to hear depressive music ALL the time’ were his words (he’s mistaken by the way, it’s actually not all the time, only most of it)).

The songs on White Light are outstanding, with maybe 2 or 3 exceptions, Tears Of Rage and 1975 are in my opinion rather mediocre songs and I much prefer the Byrds version of One In A Hundred to the one on here, I don’t like the background vocals towards the end on this one at all.

The album gets off to a flying start, setting the mood of the album perfectly, with The Virgin, Clark’s inherently melancholic voice and a number of acoustic and electric guitars on a bed of plucking away drums, and, crucially for setting the tone of the album, a number of harmonica solos, mixed far into the foreground of the mix, which is much to my taste. The lyrics on this track are evocative of that period of time and the environment in which it was written and recorded quite perfectly – it’s apparently about a girl embracing her new-found freedom in the late 1960’s to her fullest, whether the track has got a e darker underlying theme as well  I couldn’t say for sure. But it all sounds very romantic, to my 21st century ears at least.

Next track With Tomorrow is more reduced, with some slightly crooked and imperfect acoustic guitar that adds to the solemn mood of the composition. White Light is offering quite a different direction – a loose, more up-tempo Country-Rock tune, with the harmonica used to fine effect again, quite probably influenced by his work with The Dillard & Clark Expedition (which I still have to check out thoroughly, I only know the few songs from that period included on American Dreamer). One of my faves on here.  Because Of You is on here twice, I actually like the ‘alternate mix’ with its less polished lead vocals a little bit better.

Probably the best song in my opinion on White Light (battling it out with the title track) is For A Spanish Guitar, a gentle, melancholic and even slightly baroque ballad with a oh so lovely tune, in scope and lyrically it’s possibly the most refined composition on here. Where My Love Lies Asleep is another fine ballad.

The 5 bonus tracks on the expanded edition are of varying quality. Stand By Me, yes that one, is better than the version we all have heard thousands of times before, I always had a dislike for the voice of what’s-his-name, so this sounds a bit better to me, but I still have got problems listening to it. The next song Ship Of The Lord is very good though, I was very surprised to see that it is a Gene Clark song because the lyrics are so overtly religious. Musically it’s rather unfinished, with dry Rock’n’Roll guitar licks and a catchy tune – maybe that’s exactly the reason why I like it so much. Opening Day isn’t exceptionally good, but it’s not bad at all either. The last song Winter In is just that, the lyrics full of nature references, quite probably infused by the northern Californian landscape he escaped to after leaving The Byrds, and the allusion to winter is always welcome in my house.

As I said before, all people involved in the reissue of this gem of a Folk/Country-Rock album have done a splendid job, but most credit of course does belong to Gene Clark, who a lot of people consider to be the best of the Byrds songwriters (although I still vote for Bob Dylan even if he wasn’t in them), and his conspirators who recorded the original album.