Floyd Red Crow Westerman

Custer Died for Your Sins/The Land Is Your Mother

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This pair of albums from noted Native American author and activist Floyd Westerman is a tunnel back through time to the 1970s and ending in the early '80s with the FBI's documentation in Peter Mattheissen's book In The Spirit of Crazy Horse and their unfortunately successful campaign to dismantle the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) through the murder, false imprisonment, blackmail, and betrayal of its members. Ask the still imprisoned Leonard Peltier and poet John Trudell. The music here was recorded in a time of hope and struggle, following what appeared to be victories by Native Americans in their struggle for equal rights and for the separate nation created for them by the U.S. Government at the turn of the 20th century. There is only one Native chant here, which was recorded long before those sounds were fashionable on records, and that fittingly occurs on the track "Wounded Knee." First up is Custer Died for Your Sins, a militant album of songs written mostly by Native American country songwriter Jimmy Curtiss, with some collaborative efforts by Westerman and John Phillips. The music on "Custer Died for Your Sins" is definitely Texas country music, without any of Nashville's slickness brought in for measure. Steel guitars play like steel guitars, rhythms are simple 4/4, and the guitars twang and strum against each other. Westerman isn't much of a singer in terms of his voice, but he's effective as hell. You can feel the rage on the title track and on the scathing indictment of present-day Christianity in "Missionaries." There are hymns to freedom, and songs about the BIA, and to those who acknowledged their Native American Heritage once it became fashionable. On "The Land Is Your Mother," the recording is less basic, more adventurous with the sounds of flutes, sound effects, and acoustic guitars becoming more prominent in the mix. Again, it's Curtiss and Westerman on most of the selections, but Westerman writes the lion's share of the record himself. The notable tracks here -- that all have this feel, as if they could have be recorded for the soundtrack to Billy Jack -- are "How Long Have You Been Blind," another version of "B.I.A.," "Sun, Moon and Tears," "Quiet Desperation," and his classic "Joseph." The folksy nature of the songs on the latter album is very effective. The loneliness and weariness of struggle is everywhere in Westerman's voice; it stands in strident contrast to the militant country sound on the earlier album. It's not the sound of surrender, but the sound of long suffering. Nowhere is the darkness on the album more pronounced than on "Joseph," a hymn to a tribal leader who is on the run and sought by the authorities. Here the questions assert themselves as to how one people could so hate another that they would blatantly lie, cheat, and steal, no matter their intentions. These records tell the Indians' story from a very different perspective, their own. The guilty white man isn't speaking in Floyd Westerman's cracking, plaintive voice; its grain is full of a different view of the truth as it has been perceived, and is still spoken into the 21st century. It's true that the songs here sound a bit dated by their production -- so do Lee Hazlewood's and everybody's buying them -- but their message is timeless and offered with integrity and graceful courage by one who knows. The only drawback is the lack of credit information in the liner notes. There are two essays in German, and the lyrics are printed bilingually, but there are no musician's credits. Alas. They are small wrinkles in an amazing project.

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