Native American singer/songwriter Annie Humphrey has an appealing, somewhat throaty voice that sometimes recalls the phrasing of Stevie Nicks, and she writes attractive folk-rock music well suited to that voice. The weakness of her first nationally distributed album, however, is in the lyrics she sings, most of which were written by Carson Gardner. Gardner tends to write vague abstractions in repetitive structures, such that, even when you can figure out what he's getting at, you don't care. Humphrey does her best to freshen up the stale language, singing as though the lyrics were more compelling than they are, which tends to make The Heron Smiled the sort of album that sounds better if you don't listen too closely. When she writes by herself ("I Can Hear You") or with others ("See Her," co-written with her mother, author Anne Dunn, and Adrian Liberty), things don't improve much, but at least the songs are about something. The singer's American Indian heritage is referenced here and there, but the album's big set piece is the eight-minute "500 Years." Written by Humphrey, Gardner, and Dunn, the song is a compendium of Indian outrage written in the compressed, list style of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" that complains about everything from "conquistadors' golden lies" to Eskimo Pies. John Trudell, who does that sort of thing better and more concisely, turns up here and there on the album reciting lyrics behind Humphrey; he is also cited as an inspiration for a couple of the songs.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
feat: John Trudell