Sunday, May 31, 2015

Buffy Sainte-Marie's Power in the Blood


Iconic singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie and her new album Power in the Blood have been getting a lot of good press in the past two weeks. Reviews for the album have been overwhelmingly positive and a range of media outlets, from Democracy Now! to Vogue, have highlighted the multi-talented Buffy, her 50+ year career, and her new album.

You may recall that in the lead-up to the May 12 release of Power in the Blood I did a special series of posts focusing on Buffy, her music and her social activism. In Part 1 of this series I talk a bit about my own interest in, and appreciation for, Buffy and her music. I also share some concert photos of her that I took in 1999. (This series begins here and continues here and here.)

This evening I share an excerpt from the official media release for Power in the Blood followed by highlights from a number of reviews, an insightful 10-minute video on the making of the album, and a compilation of links to several recent interviews and articles. Enjoy!

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s bold new album, Power in the Blood, begins where it all started more than 50 years ago, with a contemporary version of “It’s My Way,” the title track of her 1964 debut [right]. Its message, about the road to self-identity and the conviction to be oneself, still resonates with the Cree singer-songwriter, activist, educator, visual artist, and winner of countless awards (Oscar, Juno, and Golden Globe, among them).

Perhaps you know Sainte-Marie from her 1960s protest anthems (“Universal Soldier”), open-hearted love songs (“Until It’s Time for You to Go”), incendiary pow-wow rock (“Starwalker”), or the juggernaut pop hit “Up Where We Belong,” which Sainte-Marie co-wrote and Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes sang for the soundtrack to An Officer and a Gentleman.

One of her earliest classics, “Cod’ine,” a harrowing account of addiction well ahead of its time, was covered by everyone from Janis Joplin to Donovan to Courtney Love. Or maybe you remember Sainte-Marie from her five years on the television show Sesame Street beginning in the mid-’70s.

Whatever the case, every song and every era has revealed new and distinctive shades of an artist revered for her pioneering and chameleon ways. There was no mold from which Buffy Sainte-Marie emerged; she created her own, ripened from experiences in both her head and her heart.

Power in the Blood is a follow-up to 2008’s acclaimed Running for the Drum [left] and only her fourth studio release in more than twenty years. Although just because you don’t hear from her for long stretches doesn’t mean she's not playing. Quite the opposite. Sainte-Marie’s creativity is always in motion, and her passport's always in hand, touring for lectures and performances around the world with her high-octane backing band. She records only when she feels like touring, and currently Sainte-Marie is taking center stage around the world, including North America, Europe and Australia.

Her latest record is an honest reflection of Sainte-Marie. The hallmarks of her catalog – the eclecticism and compassion she brings to each album, oblivious to genre boundaries and production trends – are in glorious bloom here. It’s the Buffy you know and love, and it’s geared for contemporary audiences.

– Author unknown
Excerpted from the official media release for
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Power In the Blood

At 74, singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie has come up with an album to compare with her best. From her earliest acoustic folk days, the Canadian Cree has combined sinuous songcraft with a powerful spiritual and political conviction lent flavour by incorporating elements of American Indian traditional music. Her rare latter-day recordings have added muscular rock power, atmospheric keyboard textures and electro grooves to a dynamic mix, exhibiting a stirring, chanting momentum focused on her extraordinary vibrato voice.

[Power in the Blood] is her 14th album, yet only her third original studio set in nearly 40 years. She may not be prodigious but she makes every track count, with a sense of both urgency and stoicism in songs addressing damage done to her heritage and the environment by the powers she has always pitched herself against. Of the twelve tracks, two are striking reinventions of older songs (pugnacious 1964 anthem "It’s My Way" and furious 1972 break-up rocker "Not the Lovin' Kind") and two are uplifting covers of British bands (Alabama 3’s "Power In the Blood" and UB40’s "Sing Our Own Song"). With dreamy lullabies, hypnotic love songs and pointed politics all delivered with emotional stridency, Saint-Marie blends rich musicality with the force of righteous conviction.

– Neil McCormick
"Buffy Sainte-Marie's Power In the Blood: 'Every Track Counts'"
The Telegraph
May 10, 2015

Apparently nobody told Buffy Sainte-Marie to slow down when she hit her eighth decade on this earth. But, even if they did, who'd expect her to listen? At 74 years old, this perennially underrated artist sounds as vital and as urgent as ever on this, her 18th record. In fact, Power In The Blood might just be the best album she's made since the late 1960s. Recording in Toronto with producers Michael Phillip Wojewoda (Rheostatics), Jon Levine (K'NAAN) and Chris Birkett (Sinéad O'Connor), the Canadian-born Cree singer-songwriter and activist has found just the right sonic home for her singular voice.

On a diverse, even eclectic, collection ranging from caustic political missives ("Uranium War," a terrific re-working of her early composition "It's My Way") to tender, vulnerable ballads ("Ke Sakihitin Awasis," "Orion") to hard-driving rock ("Not The Lovin' Kind," "Generation") to borderline EDM funk ("Power in the Blood"), her band grooves and drives with consummate skill.

. . . Truly there is no song I've heard this year that's affected me (on the first and on the 31st listen) as deeply as "Ke Sakihitin Awasis"; by turns a slow-burning love song, a lament for something lost and a dream of renewal and rebirth, this magisterial lullaby alone is enough to justify recording everything else that surrounds it. Power In The Blood is a masterpiece in a storied career.

– Stuart Henderson
Excerpted from "Buffy Sainte-Marie: Power In The Blood"
May 13, 2015

[Buffy's] first [album] since 2008’s Running for the Drum is a hard-hitting, musically diverse collection, touching on themes of militarization and corporate greed as well as love, family and protecting Mother Earth. Powwow singing and electronic rhythms give it a contemporary flavour and a strong sense of urgency.

– Lynn Saxburg
Excerpted from "Never Idle, Buffy Sainte-Marie
is Energized by New Album
Ottawa Citizen
May 30, 2015

I listened loud to [Buffy Sainte-Marie's] music through college and into adulthood and was inspired by her fierceness and activism. From her unique voice — that is part trill and part songbird — to her instruments of mouth bow and drum, to her lyrics of protest, perseverance and hybrid-music mixes, she always brings her all.

Indeed, since hitting the folk music scene in the 1960s, Buffy Sainte-Marie has been a hero for many. She is a musical innovator — producing her own music and adopting electronic instruments before anyone else.

She still travels with a rock band all over the world. She's also a front line educator creating the Cradleboard Teaching Project that brings Native American cultures into public education systems. She has been an activist from AIM to Idle No More, an actor and a successful artist.

At 74, Buffy's fire is still burning bright with a new album, Power in the Blood, that once again challenges what you think you know about her, about music and about indigenous peoples.

– Rosanna Deerchild
Excerpted from "The Loud and Proud Song and Wisdom of Buffy Sainte-Marie"
CBC News
May 16, 2015

[Buffy Sainte-Marie] is well-known and rightly honored for her civil rights activism and music, but the 74-year-old Cree singer-songwriter is no throwback to yesteryear. As fans know, the artist’s catalog is an embarrassment of riches, with styles ranging from acoustic to traditional American Indian songs to classic folk to true rockers.

Her latest batch of songs is a delicious mix of styles.

Standout tracks include Miss Sainte-Marie’s reinvention of the 1964 tunes “It’s My Way,” which mixes electronic with soul-stirring percussion reminiscent of American Indian drum lines and folk lyrics, the electronica-Americana “Farm in the Middle of Nowhere” and the rock-folk-Americana-Native mix that is “Generation.”

Expect critics to name Power in the Blood, released last week, as one of the best albums of the year.

– Nancy Dunham
Excerpted from "Some Music Releases Not to Be Overlooked"
The Washington Post
May 18, 2015

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s genre-detonating early-1970s recordings, which found a happy medium between indigenous, country, electro-acoustic, and folk, have been rediscovered by indie stalwarts like Owen Pallett. In the age of Idle No More, her politics have seemed prophetic. After working for years on a variety of projects less related to music, she returns with an uncategorizable collection of profound resonance. Power in the Blood is the work of an elder working against genre, knowing history, and moving forward into aesthetically unknown territory. For a septuagenarian, the optimism of it is heartening.

– Anthony Easton
Excerpted from "SPIN Country Report"
July 1, 2015

Few Canadian artists have had as fascinating and varied a career as Buffy Sainte-Marie. [Her latest album is] a totally compelling and powerful new collection of songs. . . . Buffy [is] singing and writing as strongly as ever, and framing her songs in contemporary settings. Helping her do that are such ace producers as long-time collaborator Chris Birkett (Sinead O'Connor), Jon Levine (Serena Ryder), and Michael Phillip Wojewoda (Rheostatics). Earlier songs "It's My Way" and "Not the Lovin' Kind" are reworked effectively, while "We Are Circling" first appeared on Internal Sounds, a 2013 album from The Sadies. At a time when contemporary folk artists seem scared to write protest songs, it's refreshing to hear her sound eloquently angry still, as on the title cut.

. . .A charismatic performer, she is touring North America this summer. Canadian festival shows include the Calgary Folk Festival (July 25), Interstellar Rodeo in Edmonton (July 26), and Manitoulin Country Fest on August 7. Check her site for more shows.

– Kerry Doole
Excerpted from "Buffy Sainte-Marie: Power in the Blood"
New Canadian Music
May 12, 2015

[Power in the Blood] is one of the most diverse albums out there. I am awestruck by the songwriting of this extremely underrated singer/songwriter [and] extremely impressed with the melting pot of music that blends in with [Buffy's] lyrics and messages perfectly. Her voice . . . is still full of power even 50 years [into her career]. She is well, well overdue for some mainstream success.

– Matty
Excerpted from "Power in the Blood by Buffy Sainte-Marie"
Muen Magazine
May 9, 2015

It’s easy to lump folk icon Buffy Sainte-Marie in with Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and other activist voices of a generation, but that would be a major disservice to Miss Sainte-Marie.

Her work is at least as influential with fans and with artists as diverse as Kanye West and Samantha Crain. Yet Miss Sainte-Marie has always remained a moving musical target, mixing and matching styles including folk, rock, industrial, electronic, hip-hop and, of course, American Indian. The common denominators in her rich catalog of work are her distinctive vocals wrapped around songs that throb with individual and communal respect. Those themes are resplendent in her dazzling new album, Power in the Blood.

“If I’m thinking professionally, I am a songwriter,” Miss Sainte-Marie said when asked whether she defines herself as a songwriter, singer, activist, actor, composer, educator or philanthropist, or by one of the many other roles that have defined her life’s work. “When I started singing, I had already been making up songs for years. It’s just what I did for fun [starting when I was] three. Other kids would like to go out and play ball or paint or dance, but I wanted to create songs.”

And what a selection she has crafted on this lush album, which brims with more modern and visionary sounds that put listeners in mind of artists such as Nine Inch Nails and Neil Young.

. . . Those who try to pigeonhole Miss Sainte-Marie and her music don’t understand how her artistry works. That’s one reason the swirl of electronic, rock, folk, country, hip-hop and Native sounds in Power in the Blood will surprise many.

But for all the bold synthesizers and samples, Miss Sainte-Marie’s music is still steeped in her rich folk tradition, particularly on the country-based “Farm in the Middle of Nowhere” and “The Uranium War,” which continues her lament about Native issues.

– Nancy Dunham
Excerpted from "With Power in the Blood,
Buffy Sainte-Marie Releases a Visionary Album
The Washington Times
June 1, 2015

The stand-out moment for me comes in the album’s opening third with “We Are Circling,” a rhythmic, rocking anthem celebrating every Earthly thing from “creature to creation,” first recorded with The Sadies for their 2013 Internal Sounds. According to Sainte-Marie, the song originates with the Rainbow Family in Northern California, when it had just one verse, but she’s written more, spreading its message in ever-widening circles with each verse, her trademark vibrato punctuating the lines “This is harmony / This is community / This is celebration / This is sacred.” It is the album’s spiritual heart, its pulse, its power, its blood.

Fearless and forthright as ever, Sainte-Marie takes on politics and social justice causes with aplomb. A cover of UB40’s anti-apartheid anthem “Sing Our Own Song” recontextualizes the song and adds new lyrics referencing Idle No More; “Ke Sakihitin Awasis” is dedicated to all generations of indigenous people of North America, those who keep the culture alive and not let the struggle and oppression be easily forgotten.

With the vigor and gusto of someone half her age, Sainte-Marie rallies a new generation on Power In The Blood’s closing song, “Carry It On” to keep the legacy she has established alive: “Look right now / and you will see / we are only here by the skin of our teeth / as it is, so take heart / and take care of your link with life / and carry it on.”

– Jim Di Gioia
Excerpted from "Buffy Sainte Marie: Power In The Blood"
Quick Before It Melts
May 11, 2015

Following is a 10-minute documentary by Folk Roots and Blues Music on the making of Power in the Blood. It features interviews with Buffy and the album's three producers – Jon Levine, Chris Birkett and Michael Wojewoda. Enjoy!

Related Off-site Links:
Buffy Sainte-Marie Q&A: 50 Years of Activism and Music – Karen Bliss (Samaritan Mag, May 27, 2015).
In Conversation with Buffy Sainte-Marie – Chuck Armstrong (Diffuser, May 18, 2015).
Where There's Folk, There's Fire: An Interview with Buffy Sainte-Marie – Kelly McCartney (The Bluegrass Situation, May 11, 2015).
Buffy Sainte-Marie on Her New Album and Legacy as a Native American Activist – Alex Frank (Vogue, May 27, 2015).
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "War is Different from Economic Oppression. War is Murder" – Sadaf Ahsan (National Post, May 21, 2015).
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Ingenious Plan To Help Our First Nations Housing Crisis – Joshua Ostroff (Huffington Post Canada, May 27, 2015).
Buffy Sainte-Marie on Idle No More, Stephen Harper and Residential Schools – Joshua Ostroff (The Huffington Post Canada, June 3, 2015).
Writer of the Week: Buffy Sainte-Marie – Emily Maxwell (American Songwriter, June 8, 2015).
Buffy Sainte-Marie Talks Corporate "Racketeers," 2016 Election, and Power In the Blood – Joe Lynch (Billboard, June 18, 2015).

For more of Buffy Sainte-Marie at The Wild Reed, see:
Buffy Sainte-Marie and That "Human-Being Magic"
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Lesson from the Cutting Edge: "Go Where You Must to Grow"
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "Sometimes You Have to Be Content to Plant Good Seeds and Be Patient"
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Singing It and Praying It; Living It and Saying It
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Still Singing with Spirit, Joy, and Passion
Something Special for Indigenous Peoples Day
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "The Big Ones Get Away"

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