First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2009, Volume 16, #1
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Fri January 23, 2009, 06:30 AM CST
More than four decades ago, when The Beatles introduced the world at large to Indian classical music via the sitar-driven performances of Ravi Shankar, there was no way that the group could have predicted the can of worms it had opened. Until then, there had been a gentle scuffling between the music of Europe and the burgeoning North American scene, which eventually morphed to create new genres, such as country and rock ’n‘ roll. Feeding into this framework was the output from traditional African musicians who expressed their encounter with European expatriate culture by creating the jazz and blues formats. By and large, however, the music that was heard in English-speaking cultures continued to be expressed as a comfortable synthesis of familiar styles.
Bob Marley’s ascension to superstar status in the 1970s further rocked the boat by instigating deeper interest in music from around the globe. By the turn of the century, high-quality material from every country in the world could be accessed easily by anyone who cared to hear it. With the abundance of African, Indian, Asian, and Middle Eastern music that has flooded the market in recent years, it is ironic that one of the last geographical areas to be folded into the rich tapestry of global culture emanates from the indigenous peoples of North America.
Like many folks with mixed native blood, my family never acknowledged its "Indian side." Although I grew up listening to music from everywhere, aside from Robbie Robertson’s admirable recordings of Native American songs, I had never heard any indigenous North American music until very recently. Earth Gift, the new album from Lakota flautist Kevin Locke, is a beautifully played and recorded collection of traditional native songs that hopefully will introduce a new generation of people to the music of North America’s First Nations.
In crafting Earth Gift, Locke and Tom Wasinger, his producer, opted to use traditional 19th Century instruments — such as the hammered zither and the nail violin — to give the set an authentic, frontier-driven ambience. Nevertheless, there is nothing that is dry or academic about the endeavor. Indeed, many of it songs sound as if they are being performed by The Carter Family in a modern-day recording studio.
The heart of Earth Gift is drawn from the traditional fare of the Lakota tribe. With the help of Lakota singers Gracie RedShirt Tyon and Douglas Good Feather, Locke intones these ancient prayers over a bedrock of unusual period instruments played by Wasinger. This approach allows the ensemble to avoid the New Age affectations that often mar and distort recordings of traditional sacred music, and the overall effect is both uplifting and musically gratifying. The songs that are primarily lead by Locke’s flute were chosen — for the most part — from the repertoire of traditional Lakota love songs. So, not surprisingly, these melodies are simple, gentle, and uplifting. These tracks, in particular, can be enjoyed without any prior exposure to or knowledge of Native American music.
Earth Gift is an admirable album. For those who are interested in exploring indigenous music in more depth, it goes a long way toward opening the door into the world of native song. Hopefully, everyone will be hearing a lot more from Locke in the near future. ˝
Of Further Interest...
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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