After providing Rough Guides for everything from reggae, salsa and flamenco to the music of South Africa, Eastern Europe and Brazil, the World Music Network's excellent Rough Guide series turned its attention to Native American music with this 18-song CD. Assembled in 1998, The Rough Guide to Native American Music isn't meant to be the last word on Native American culture, but it does offer an interesting, exciting variety of music by Native Americans. "Variety" is definitely the key word for this compilation, which ranges from the traditional to the contemporary. Some of the disc's more traditional offerings include R. Carlos Nakai's "Cleft in the Sky," Primeaux & Mike's "Healing Song," Peter Garcia & the Garcia Brothers' "Basket Dance" and the late Ed Lee Natay's "Sacred Mask Dance" (which was recorded in 1951). On other selections, you'll find Native Americans embracing everything from folk-pop (Joanne Shenandoah's "Tekanatsyaslitha" and Sharon Burch's "Sacred Wind") and Mexican ranchero music (Southern Scratch's "Cuatro Vidas Polka") to hardcore rap (Without Rezervation's "Are You Ready for W.O.R.?"). The latter is quite compelling, bringing to mind the searing political commentary of Public Enemy; "Are You Ready for W.O.R.?" finds Oakland rappers Without Rezervation pulling no punches as they rail against the oppression that Native Americans have suffered. Again, this collection isn't meant to be the last word on Native American music (for example, it contains nothing by Kevin Locke, an adventurous flute player from North Dakota). The collection only scratches the surface, and that surface is a very inviting one.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson