Smoke Signals was snatched up by Miramax after winning the Filmmakers Trophy and the Audience Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, making it the first major feature film to be written, directed, and acted by Native Americans. Like the film itself, which went on to be an unlikely box office success, the soundtrack provided a major market showcase for Native American talent. In addition to excerpts from B.C. Smith's original score, the CD features music from Native American artists Ulali, Jim Boyd, Jon Sirois, Andre Picara, Jr., Patrick Watt, and the Eaglebear Singers. Smith's score incorporates elements of traditional Native American music, placing it alongside Michael Nyman-esque orchestral compositions and snatches of contemporary rock. The tone is set immediately in the record's first (and best) track, "Forgive Our Fathers Suite." In the movie, the piece was used to stunning effect at the conclusion, with Smith's rich, sweeping strings leading into Ulali's powerful "Wahjeeleh-Yihm," while a somber voice-over recites Dick Lourie's poem "Forgiving Our Fathers." The second and third tracks are even more diverse, adding '70s rock to Indian vocals and orchestral music. The soundtrack also contains four songs by indigenous singer/songwriter Jim Boyd. While Boyd's stiff vocal performances leave something to be desired, the socially conscious lyrics by the film's screenwriter, Sherman Alexie, are a perfect fit for the film thematically, as are the Eaglebear Singers' amusing "John Wayne's Teeth" and Ulali's passionate "All My Relations." Popular contemporary folk artist Dar Williams may not be a Native American, but her song "Road Buddy" is nonetheless an appropriate choice for what is, after all, a road flick. (In fact, the song sounds better in the context of the Smoke Signals soundtrack than it did on her album The End of Summer.) All of this wide-ranging diversity does make for a somewhat disjointed listen, but it is undeniably well-suited to a movie about the struggle of the indigenous peoples to accept, embrace, and preserve their heritage in the face of the dominating influence of mainstream American culture.
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AllMusic Review by Evan Cater