Jerry Alfred

Etsi Shon (Grandfather Song)

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While Native American music has received at least a small amount of exposure, that of Canada's first peoples has often gone ignored, at least south of the 49th parallel. However, in Jerry Alfred, the Canadian Aboriginal people have an artist of international stature, one who keeps the spirit of his Selkirk tribe in the Yukon alive, making contemporary music with a strong traditional heartbeat. The drum is at the center of much of this sound, played simply, as on "The Warrior Song," to create an almost hypnotic effect, with plenty of singers backing Alfred. In many ways, it is just an update of styles that have been around for hundreds of years, but with modern dynamics and effects applied. Bob Hamilton's lead guitar decorates the stark sound, but the stars here are Alfred's songs, with his largely unadorned voice carrying the lyrics in his native Tutchone, sometimes introduced in English, as he does on "MacMillan River Love Song." Of course, he's also capable of writing a more conventional song, like the title track, which could have come from a mid-period Dylan, or "The Watchman," with its curious mix of train harmonica and Jew's Harp providing a backdrop for vocals and guitar. The magic, though, is in the material that has his individual style stamped on it, simple tales that run deep in the way of myth, presented for a modern generation. "Beginner Gambling Song" gains some of its sonic impact not only from the singing, but from the way the drums are recorded, so you can hear every buzz of skin against rim. In some ways, it's as if Daniel Lanois had shaped this record (he didn't, but he might have inspired some of the sound architecture) as a simple masterpiece where all the elements come together perfectly.

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