Friday, December 22, 2017

Buffy Sainte-Marie's Medicine Songs


Legendary singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie and her new album Medicine Songs have been getting a lot of good press since the album's November 10 release.

You may recall that in the lead-up to the release of Medicine Songs I did a special series of posts focusing on Buffy, her music, and her social activism. This series begins here and continues here, here, here, and here.

This evening I share Buffy's "artist statement" on Medicine Songs, along with highlights from a number of reviews, an insightful interview with Buffy, and a compilation of links to several recent interviews and articles. Enjoy!

[Medicine Songs] is a collection of front line songs about unity and resistance – some brand new and some classics – and I want to put them to work. These are songs I've been writing for over fifty years, and what troubles people today are still the same damn issues from 30-40-50 years ago: war, oppression, inequity, violence, rankism of all kinds, the pecking order, bullying, racketeering and systemic greed. Some of these songs come from the other side of that: positivity, common sense, romance, equity and enthusiasm for life.

I've found that a song can be more effective than a 400-page textbook. It's immediate and replicable, portable and efficient, easy to understand – and sometimes you can dance to it. Effective songs are shared, person-to-person, by artists and friends, as opposed to news stories that are marketed by the fellas who may own the town, the media, the company store and the mine. I hope you use these songs, share them, and that they inspire change and your own voice.

It might seem strange that along with the new ones, I re-recorded and updated some of these songs from the past using current technologies and new instrumentations – giving a new life to them from today's perspective. The thing is, some of these songs were too controversial for radio play when they first came out, so nobody ever heard them, and now is my chance to offer them to new generations of like-minded people dealing with these same concerns. It's like the play is the same but the actors are new.

I really want this collection of songs to be like medicine, to be of some help or encouragement, to maybe do some good. Songs can motivate you and advance your own ideas, encourage and support collaborations and be part of making change globally and at home. They do that for me and I hope this album can be positive and provide thoughts and remedies that rock your world and inspire new ideas of your own.

– Buffy Sainte-Marie
November 2017

When spinning singer/songwriter Buffy Saint-Marie’s 2017 album Medicine Songs, you’ll realize that the art of protest music is NOT dead – it was just waiting for Buffy to release a new album!

Mixing her early stark, acoustic Folk roots with Native American rhythms and a contemporary sound, this is an album that demonstrates her ability to remain true to her roots while also moving forward as an artist.

For those unfamiliar with Buffy’s career, here is a brief overview from the album’s press release, “Equal parts activist, educator, songwriter, performer and visual artist, Buffy Sainte-Marie is a champion for indigenous people and the environment through her music, art, education projects and by taking direct political action. One of the most enduring and popular Native American performers, her music has touched millions of people around the world. From her start in New York City’s Greenwich Village in the early 1960s alongside Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, Buffy made a name for herself as a gifted songwriter, writing hits for Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond. Her most well-known song is the Academy Award-winning “Up Where We Belong” from the film An Officer and a Gentleman, but her most acclaimed song is 'Universal Soldier,' one of the first anti-Vietnam war anthems to inspire a generation of activists.”

An artist that has been a part of Pop culture for over 50 years, you’d be forgiven to assume that Buffy’s Medicine Songs is an album stuck in the past. While the album consists of new songs and interpretations of classics from her back catalog, it is not an album that spends its time looking backwards. Good art remains relevant and timeless and songs like “Universal Soldier,” “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone,” and “Little Wheel Spin and Spin” are just as relevant today as ever. And then you’ve got this version of the lesser-known “Starwalker,” which absolutely comes alive on Medicine Songs. New compositions like “You Got To Run” and “The War Racket” prove that Buffy has not softened over the years.

Available on both vinyl and CD including a digital download that includes seven additional tracks, Medicine Songs is an album that we may not have expected but it certainly an album that we need!

– Stephen Schnee
"Featured Album of the Week:
Buffy Sainte-Marie/Medicine Songs

November 10, 2017

Buffy Saint-Marie could have rested on her laurels and toured past albums, keeping her name in the media and public eye by recreating many incarnations of a Greatest Hits record.

Instead, she's released a new, inventive, dynamic album.

Medicine Songs is the follow-up to the Polaris Music Prize, and JUNO Award-winning, 2015 album Power in the Blood, released November 10, 2017, through True North Records, a powerful, relevant, contemporary album, touching upon present-day issues with a sound that is simultaneously fresh and true to Sainte-Marie’s musical and artistic voice.

. . . Medicine Songs is a powerful follow up to Power in the Blood with inventive, stunning production, skilled musicianship, poignant songwriting, tasteful performances, and more heart than one expects from a modern rock/roots record. Power in the Blood and Medicine Songs are a powerful one-two combination, two rich and lush records that any artist would be hard-pressed to create once, let alone twice.

Medicine Songs is tough and empowered, non-apologetic and bitingly honest. The album is diverse in style and production while retaining Sainte-Marie’s voice; every song is sincere, unflinching, and poignant, displaying an artist who shows no intention of slowing down.

The diverse aesthetic of straight rock, acoustic folk, free jazz noise, techno-noir, and rebel rock proves Saint-Marie’s comfort as a multi-genre, multi-faceted composer and performer.

When many musicians and artists settle into their career, Buffy Sainte-Marie is as strong and relevant as ever, making her distinct voice rise over the clatter of conformity and apathy.

Listen to Medicine Songs and experience one of the best new albums of 2017!

– The Riz
Excerpted from "Review:
Buffy Sainte-Marie – Medicine Songs

Canadian Beats
November 12, 2017

Above: Buffy Sainte-Marie performs during the Canada Day noon hour show on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday, July 1, 2017. (Photo: Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

While re-recording older material is a serious mistake for most artists, Sainte-Marie makes it work on Medicine Songs; with new arrangements and updated lyrics, she has brought the songs into the present day and given them new life while also reinforcing their continuing relevance. If anything, issues of the environment, economic injustice, and the rights of native peoples have become more relevant with the passage of time, and the passion and fire of Sainte-Marie's performances are very much of the here and now. Her vocals are miraculously clear and forceful on these recordings, and she sounds not so much like an elder statesman of conscious folk music than a fearless contemporary artist who fills these tunes with righteous anger toward the oppressors in our culture (and compassion for the oppressed).

The production and arrangements on these songs are thoroughly up to date, with elements of hip-hop and indie rock applied effectively and with intelligence; this doesn't sound like it's trying to be contemporary, it is contemporary, and in the right ways. While some older fans who haven't kept up with Buffy Sainte-Marie's work from 1992's Coincidence and Likely Stories onward might be surprised by the sound and spirit of Medicine Songs, this music leaves no doubt that she has no interest in aging gracefully; at 76, she's as fierce, aware, and committed as any artist a third her age, and these tunes speak to the madness of 2017 with a stunning clarity.

– Mark Deming
Excerpted from “A Review of Buffy Sainte-Marie's Medicine Songs
November 2017

Sainte-Marie’s commitment to crusading against the follies of war and environmental degradation, for better treatment of Indigenous peoples and the lands stolen from them, against inequality and corporate greed and for human decency in general remains undiminished as she steers ever closer to her 80th year.

Her commitment to uncompromising artistry hasn’t waned at all over the decades, either. Rather than take the easy route with Medicine Songs and crank out a simple compilation album, Saint-Marie went back into the studio, tore apart her old songs and dressed them up with updated lyrics and ferocious new arrangements to better fit the tenor of the times. There are also a couple of mood-appropriate new tunes in the mix, a rousing duet with Inuk powerhouse Tanya Tagaq – with whom she connected after winning the Polaris Music Prize for Power in the Blood in 2015, a year after Tagaq took the same award for Animism – called “You Got to Run (Spirit of the Wind)” and a biting, electroshocked tirade against war profiteering entitled “The War Racket.”

“I could have put out a playlist but I didn’t want to do that. I mean, I sing ’em every night and I think I sing ’em better now than I did on the originals,” shrugs the Saskatchewan expat. “‘Universal Soldier’ and ‘Now That the Buffalo’s Gone,’ I did them exactly the same way as before because they were right the first time. Acoustic guitar and vocal. I don’t have a better way to do it and I think anything I added to it would be just detracting from it. But then other things, we did quite differently, we added things to.

“They’re my songs. I know what I’m doing. I looked at is an opportunity, really, not only to give them to my ‘classic’ fans but also to new generations who’ve never heard those songs because they are about important issues that people care about."

– Ben Rayner
Excerpted from “Buffy Sainte-Marie on
Her Fresh Dose of Old Medicine

The Star
November 15, 2017

. . . Sainte-Marie is as passionate about addressing injustice in her own folksy way as she has ever been, and Medicine Songs is her attempt to corral all of her most riotous words – some brand-new, some, like “Bury My Heart My Heart at Wounded Knee,” updated versions of her classics – in one place. “This album has activist songs, not protest songs,” she says. “Protest songs spell out a problem, but activist songs spell out solutions.” In a post-Trump landscape of woke, politically minded young artists like Solange and Kendrick Lamar, her music has never sounded more relevant. On Medicine Songs, against a backdrop of crunching electronic rock, many of the lyrics are almost instructive in their messaging, centering on issues like the uranium conflicts between oil companies and indigenous Americans in, she says, the hopes that knowledge is power and will lead to change. “It’s passion, but it’s practical,” she says. “Even if somebody wanted to make a revolution, I don’t think they could pull it off. And I believe in nonviolence. It doesn’t do us any good to just hate on the oil people – we have to find ways to settle things, like convincing them to reinvest in clean energy. Aboriginal people are practical – that’s how we survived.”

– Alex Frank
Excerpted from “Buffy Sainte-Marie:
“Protest Songs Spell Out Problems.
Activist Songs Spell Out Solutions

The Village Voice
November 15, 2017

It would be nice to believe that Medicine Songs might make a difference and fair play to Buffy for continuing the put her messages of hope out there. Vocally, she’s never sounded better, and the new arrangements – ranging from her acoustic troubadour roots (she hasn’t messed too much with “Universal Soldier”), to world music, indie rock, and even hip-hop – do more than just apply a fresh veneer to aging material.

The result is a thoroughly ‘modern’ album, and one that belies Sainte-Marie’s advancing years. In a somewhat unusual twist the digital version of the album features 20 songs, whereas due to capacity limitations the CD only features 13. But so those investing in the physical product don’t miss out, a download code card is included that allows you to get the rest of the tracks. Nice touch, Buffy.

– Pete Whalley
Excerpted from “Album Review:
Buffy Sainte-Marie – Medicine Songs

Get Ready to Rock
December 7, 2017

UPDATE . . .

Buffy Sainte-Marie manages to shrink the gulf between past and future, employing a keen awareness of cutting-edge technology in the service of ancient wisdom. This retrospective set combines newer material with re-recorded versions of early Sixties protest classics such as “Soldier Blue” and “Universal Soldier”, in which she tackled issues of eco-consciousness and personal responsibility long before they became common discourse.

Since then, her protests have been articulate and specific: the systematic oppression of Native American culture (including the forced re-education of children) in Canada; the black-ops-backed mining of uranium on Native territory; the profit principle underlying “The War Racket”. Against these dark forces she posits the power of indigenous healers and wisdom keepers, underscoring her arguments with arrangements which combine rousing powwow chants in hypnotic collusion with cyclical guitar figures, mouth-bow drones and pulsing grooves. The result, in tracks like “You Got To Run” and “No No Keshagesh”, is uniquely uplifting, a powerful affirmation of steely spirituality.

– Andy Gill
Excerpted from “Album Reviews:
Craig David, Mary Gauthier, and Buffy Sainte-Marie

The Independent
January 25, 2018

Following is an interview with Buffy backstage at the 2017 Juno Awards, where she was the recipient of the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award.

Related Off-site Links:
Music as Medicine: Buffy Sainte-Marie Talks Politics, Sex Scandals and Her Brand New Album – Rosanna Deerchild (CBC Radio's Unreserved, November 19, 2017)
Buffy Sainte-Marie Takes a Stand with Medicine SongsET Canada (November 30, 2017).
Buffy Sainte-Marie Makes Music for a New Generation of Activists – Tom Power (CBC Radio, November 17, 2017).
The Unbreakable Buffy Sainte-Marie: A Candid Conversation with the Resilient Songwriter and Activist – Whitney Phaneuf (Acoustic Guitar, January 18, 2017).

For The Wild Reed's special series of posts leading-up to the November 10, 2017 release of Medicine Songs, see:
For Acclaimed Songwriter, Activist and Humanitarian Buffy Sainte-Marie, the World is Always Ripening
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "I'm Creative Anywhere"
Buffy Sainte-Marie Headlines SummerStage Festival in NYC's Central Park
Buffy Sainte-Marie, "One of the Best Performers Out Touring Today"
The Music of Buffy Sainte-Marie: "Uprooting the Sources of Disenfranchisement"
Buffy Sainte-Marie: “Things Do Change and Things Do Get Better”

For The Wild Reed's special series of posts leading-up to the May 12, 2015 release of Buffy's award-winning album, Power in the Blood, 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's Power in the Blood

For more of Buffy Sainte-Marie at The Wild Reed, see:
A Music Legend Visits the North Country: Buffy Sainte-Marie in Minnesota and Wisconsin – August 2016
Two Exceptional Singers Take a Chance on the "Spirit of the Wind"
Photo of the Day – January 21, 2017
Buffy Sainte-Marie Wins 2015 Polaris Music Prize
Congratulations, Buffy
Happy Birthday, Buffy!
Actually, There's No Question About It
For Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Well-Deserved Honor
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"

Opening image: Album cover showing Buffy Sainte-Marie performing in Calgary on July 24, 2011. (Photo: Lyle Aspinall/Calgary Sun/Qmi Agency)
Image 2: Buffy performing at the Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, WI on Saturday, August 27, 2016. (Photo: Michael J. Bayly)
Image 3: Matt Barnes.
Image 4: Justin Tang/The Canadian Press.
Image 5: Michael J. Bayly.
Image 6: Matt Barnes.

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