The two volumes of Navajo peyote songs recorded by Arizona resident Kevin Lewis feature in total some 60 different songs, and represent one of two extensive projects that this Navajo/Cherokee medicine man has committed himself to recording. The other set is two volumes of Ceremonial Songs and Dances of the Cherokee. The second volume of the peyote project is something of a mind-blower, as ought to be the case in this genre. There are no timings written down for the 40 different songs, and compounding this statistical mishap is the tendency for the listener to also lose one's sense of time when absorbing the flow of these songs, one to the next, accompanied by the superior drumming of Herschel Kaulaity. It becomes symphonic or like a long suite, and the more one listens the more subtle colorings and rhythmic tricks one hears in Lewis' sweet and vigorous singing. Most important, his is the voice of a human, divorced from the concert hall or celebrity trappings. That is not to say this isn't professionally done, from a technical musical standpoint. Producer Millard Clark gets the same rich, fat, and detailed sound that he seems to feature on all his productions, making him something of the Rudy Van Gelder of the Native American musical scene. Although since New York seems to have been "purchased" from the Indians, perhaps it is the other way around. Cheyenne/Kiowa percussionist Kaulaity uses gourd rattles that are most likely prepared in a very special way, as would be the tradition in the important ceremonies these songs come from. And, of course, this attention to detail is not lost in the sound itself, which is marvelous. The combined rhythms often reach a pitch of density where it begins to sound like a bunch of crickets. Lyrics are totally in Navajo, with the exception of a few choruses of "Happy Birthday," which should reassure Anglo listeners who may have suspected all along that these peyote ceremonies are pretty harmless.
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