Dirty Words & Thoughts About Music (Dec. 2015)

Renegade Radio’s Music News and Reviews

By Brian Wright-McLeod, 2015

News From Indian Country

Buffy Sainte-Marie won the 2015 Canadian Polaris Music Prize for her album Power in the Blood. She performed the title track on the televised concert and displayed that her music is as energetic as ever with lyrics of protest. Last year’s recipient was experimental/explorative throat singer Tanya Tagaq (Inuit) for her album Animism [Six Shooter/Universal].

Tagaq also received this year’s esteemed Juno Award (Canada’s Grammy) in the aboriginal music category for the same CD. Additionally, the 2015 Juno nominees in the aboriginal category included Crystal Shawanda, The Whole World’s Got the Blues [New Sun/Fontana North], Digging Roots, For the Light [Sugar Bush/Outside], Leela Gilday, Heart of the People [Diva Sound/Outside] and Tomson Highway, The (Post) Mistress [Independent]. This year’s Canadian Folk Music Awards winner was Digging Roots, For the Light; nominees included The Jerry Cans, Aukuluk; Miranda Currie, Up in the Air; Buffy Sainte-Marie, Power in the Blood, and Laura Vinson, Spirit Warrior.


Logan Staats: Goodbye Goldia

Logan Staats (Mohawk), former lead singer of the heavy metal outfit Ghost Town Orchestra, released his first solo album as a singular entity with only his vocals and acoustic guitar. First impressions quickly surmised that no additional musical elements are required other than what is heard. The stripped down performance works so well, it almost defies description. A soulful, energetic performance, Staats is an artistic wolf who literally howls at the moon with a naturally controlled abandon. While some may consider the material to be heart-songs, there is no escaping his infectious talent. Listen for the hidden bonus track tucked away at the tail-end of the disc. Produced by Derek Miller (Mohawk), Goodbye Goldia is an impressive seminal album that was recorded on Staats’s home of Six Nations. It’s an album not to be missed.


Crystal Shawanda: The Whole World’s Got the Blues

[New Sun/Fontana North]

A country singer since her early teens when she began releasing her original songs on independent cassette releases, Crystal Shawanda (Anishnabe) rose to prominence in the industry after signing to a major label where she appeared on the Country Billboard Charts. After leaving her label, she entered the rocky water of independent artists and turned her attention to the blues.

Was it a brilliant move? And what can one say about a blues album that hasn’t already been said? Only time will tell but after giving her newest ten-track album a good ear, she continues to record and perform with the energy and talent that grows and develops in surprising directions. Musicians include Dewayne Strobel, Michael Bonagura, John Webster, Jack Irwin, guitars; Flavio Cirillo, Pat Steward, Louis Winfield, drums; Dog Brown, Larry Grisham, Stephen Hanner, harmonica; Vicki Hampton, Michael Bonagura, backup vocals; Virginia Shawanda, Ojibway prayer; Jordan Mowat, hand drum.

Derek Miller: Rumble
[NMAI Records]

The multi-award winning guitarist recorded a rock-centric interpretation of classic standards from iconic Native musicians and songwriters presentation of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian exhibit “Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians in Popular Culture.”

Miller’s signature blues/rock style prevails dominantly on each track. Sometimes he manages to pull it off, while on most other numbers, he fails to meet the mark. Although his faithful renderings of Jimi Hendrix and Link Wray are great tributes of the originals, as he hits every note correctly to make almost exact duplicates of the original songs, but Miller is no jazz guy. The slaughtering of Jim Pepper’s “Witchi Tai To” or Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” are almost indescribable and far from the original melodies that make the songs what they are. Sometimes such self-indulgent interpretations stray into areas that become nothing more than musical “selfies” that simply don’t work. Beyond any detractions, Miller’s playing overall, has never sounded better as he refrains from his usual glitter angst-ridden temperament and explores a more controlled if not passively comfortable character.

Musicians appearing on the album include Derek Miller, lead vocals/guitars; Blaine Bomberry, electric guitar; Catherine Stefanizzi, percussion; Frank Miller, drums; Ivana Valent, keys/percussion/vocals; Mark LaForme, electric guitar/harmonica/vocals; Matt DeMatteo, drums/bass/percussion/guitars/vocals; Ryan Johnson, Marty Isaacs, Pete Atkins, banjo; Rebecca Miller, Nathan Deschamps, backup vocals; Ritchie Franzen, bass. National Museum of the American Indian personnel included exhibition coordinator and album content advisor, Chris Turner with liner notes by Kevin Grover and Tim Johnson.

Cris Derksen:  Orchestral Powwow
[Tribal Spirit Music]

An ambitious vision of merging two distinct, yet strangely similar schools of music: powwow and classical orchestral ensemble. A classically trained and culturally immersed composer of combined Cree and Mennonite ancestry combines the voices of traditional and contemporary singers including Jennifer Kreisberg (Ulali), Sheldon Sundown, Northern Voice, Black Bear, the Chippewa Travellers and an ensemble of classical orchestra musicians. More than an intersection of two distinct art forms, the music evokes an emotional artistic majesty that becomes a soundtrack of life and culture.

Derived from a true collaborative seed that melds into a harmonized cohesion, Derksen draws from a practical understanding. Instrumentally, she plays the cello with a precision immersed in knowledge, talent and historical connections. Though it’s hard to choose, some of the outstanding tracks include “New Women Song” and “Mozart’s Ghost.” The only other similar recording that comes to mind is Jim DeMars, R. Carlos Nakai, Black Lodge Singers and the Canyon Symphony Orchestra album Two World Concerto [Canyon CR-7016].


Rosary Spence: Maskawisiwin


An ensemble of women’s hand drum songs made by Cree singer Rosary Spence, highlights her crisp vocals within contemporary hand drum songs derived from traditional roots. Maskawisiwin is the Cree word for strength, an appropriate title for Spence’s powerful voice that exudes a natural beauty. The ten tracks are an eclectic mosaic of musicality and performance that strays creatively from the common path of women’s hand drum songs. Each number features a different artist with a unique talent with guests that include Cris Derksen, cello; Jason Chamakese, flute; Skratch Won, beat box; Arthur Renwick, dobro; Lena Recollet, spoken word/poetry; Gabe Gaudet, traditional vocal/hand drum; produced by Marc Nadjiwan-Marilainen (Anishnabe).


Donna’s Boy: On the Road


Another film and television actor has responded to a burning itch to put together a band and record an album. Glen Gould (Miq’mak) takes his musical inspiration from experience wrapped in a country/blues rock method with a selection of musicians collectively known as Donna’s Boy. The six-track CD casts a spotlight on Gould’s gravely baritone vocal chops and song writing style.

His original tunes employ tribal chanting on the chorus to reflect his musical and cultural origins. Additional songs penned by Dave Deleary offer an outlaw country and western twist. Glen Gould, lead vocals/rhythm guitar/producer; Marc Nadjiwan-Marilainen (Anishnabe), co-producer/guitars/keys/vocals; Dave Deleary, bass/vocals; Arthur Renwick, dobro/harmonica; Nicholas Delbaere-Sawchuk, fiddle; Mike Johnson, trumpet; Nahant Dell-Vandenberg, trombone; Cheri Maracle, Jani Lauzon, Rosary Spence, backup vocals.


Vision Quest: 86 Heaven


Rap and hip hop forms have taken most reservations by storm for different reasons, but the most common thread is the avenue of unbridled expression that speaks to social values and economic downturns that affect the youth. Nick Johnson (Southern Tuchone) from the Northwest Territories creates the music for Yudi Mercredi (Gwitchin) and MacKenzie Smith (Gwitchin) both from Whitehorse, Yukon. Six-track mini album that busts wide open with a blast of tribal/street beats of the first track “Aww Yeah” followed by the usual array of booty-call bumps and rhymes, and the rhythmic angst of outlaw tales typical of the genre.


Midnight Shine: Northern Man
[Roar Records]

Country rock from the James Bay region of northern Canada has resonated with audiences in the south. An energetic and positive direction for land, culture and generations. Even though PETA attacked the group for including photographs of a traditional Cree goose-hunt, the attempted criminalization of their lifestyle by a shill group only adds to Midnight Shine’s credibility. (The animal rights organization also lambasted Tanya Tagak who lashed out in retaliation during her acceptance speech at the Polaris Music Prize awards show). The title track is the break-out number lush with identity, but overall, the lyrical focus profiles the simplicity and delicate balance of life in the north and love of family, land and culture. Yet, it sounds like this band has somehow tapped into the Seattle-scene in their musical sensibilities with an honest delivery as it makes the most of their wall-of-sound structure, vocal harmonies and melodic abandon. Adrian Sutherland, vocals/acoustic guitar; George Gillies, drums/percussion; Stan Louttit, bass; Zach Tomatuk, electric guitar.


Jason Lepine: Drivin’ Force

Jason Lepine (Metis) learned to play the fiddle on his own by watching and listening to the Red River style played by those around him. In a very short time, Lepine has enjoyed a steady climb in the music industry with live performances, television appearances and award shows across the country including an Aboriginal Peoples’ Music Award in 2014 for Best Fiddle Album. His original songs on a hefty19-track album of Metis/Celtic fusion of reels, waltzes and jigs with a tinge of something uniquely singular in his perception of the genre that sets his music in a framework of individual distinction. Gleeful, easy playing style not only pays tribute to the traditional roots of the music but to mentors and elders like Andy Dejarlis, Ryan Keplin, JJ Lavallee and Reg Bouvette. Additional musicians include Gary Lepine, fiddle; Chantel Ewen-Lepine, fiddle; Jeremy Rusu, guitars/drums/accordion/mandolin/piano/recorder; Alex Lamoureaux, footwork; Patti Lamoureaux, spoons.

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David Laronde: Right City Wrong Town


A self-made musician from northern Canada where he lives off the land on his home reservation and plays music that reflects that experience. Laronde gathered a staunch collaboration of musicians to realize a strong project. In fact, Laronde received a 2013 Aboriginal Peoples’ Choice Music Award for Best Blues, this singer/songwriter David LaRonde (Anishnabe) heartfelt lyrics with a smooth country flavored travelin’ man musical style injected with a breath of experience that fills the album with life. The album’s title says it all. The blues portion kicks in midway through the disc with a lively little strutter called “Try Walkin’ Away” reminiscent of most country/blues ditties that emerge from the rural communities of home grown music. David Laronde, guitars/lead vocals; Julian Cote, bass; Yannick Loyer and Darrin Edwards, drums; Danny Shamess, keys; Dylan Shigwadja, backup vocals; Jerome Godboo, harmonica; Lana Roberts, piano.


Thunder Hill: Miles from Yesterday (Recorded live at Red Mountain)

The tradition of southern style powwow songs are lifted by the sublime energy of the mainstay talents of Cheevers Toppah (Kiowa-Dineh) and Alex E. Smith (Sauk and Fox-Pawnee) with Kevin Yazzie (Dineh), Nitanis Largo (Anishnabe) and many of their family members. If southern style is your thing, then Thunder Hill will always come through.

Songs of Our Old People: Old Time Round Dance Songs of Oklahoma [Canyon--6525] original songs from Leonard Cozad, Joe Cozad, Ernest Redbird, Ralph Kotay and Ralph Chasenah with liner notes by Joe Fish Dupoint. An interesting album that honors the elders of traditional music of our ancestors. It’s an outstanding collection of old-school Oklahoma southern style Kiowa round dances performed by a new generation of singers who sing true to their ancestors.

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