Buffy Sainte-Marie

Native North American Child: An Odyssey

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Buffy Sainte-Marie has always been a good deal more versatile as a musician than most people realize, roaming through folk, blues, country, pop, and even electronica on her various albums, always using her Cree ancestry as an anchor, and very few singers have dealt with cultural polemics as intelligently as she has. Perhaps because of her restless drive to try new forms, Sainte-Marie's albums are often woefully erratic and inconsistent, but each contains hidden gems, and while her eerie, vibrato-laden singing style can sound affected at times, her drive to constantly pull her agenda into new musical territories is inspiring. Native North American Child is a best-of collection of sorts, originally released in 1974 at the end of her long run with Vanguard Records, but it has an obvious theme as it traces the indigenous strain of Sainte-Marie's writing, opening with one of her best early songs, "Now That the Buffalo's Gone," and closing with another, the beautiful "Little Wheel Spin and Spin." In between, listeners are treated to the extremes of Sainte-Marie's view of the modern world. "Poppies," from 1969's brave electronic experiment Illuminations, is a haunting and deeply atmospheric piece of musical vérité, while -- at the opposite end of the scale -- "The Piney Wood Hills" is a simple country shuffle full of autobiographical yearning. There are arguably better collections out there that do a better job of spanning Sainte-Marie's career, but Native North American Child does a wonderful job of defining her central themes.

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