Annie Humphrey,
The Heron Smiled
(Makochˇ, 2000)

Annie Humphrey draws on her Native American background on her CD The Heron Smiled, and she also sings about relationships and love. It would be a mistake, however, to slot her into a specific musical category because her music is something bigger and far more universal.

Humphey wrote the music for all but one song, and in addition to providing vocals plays acoustic guitar and piano. Backed with a range of fine musicians, her vocals are cool and very slightly husky, with underlying passion and well-controlled power. Her high-energy arrangements are full and complex, often evoking strong emotions and images.

The CD begins with "Spirit Horses," based on a story by her mother, the writer Anne Dunn. She moves from the dream imagery to "But This Love," a down-to-earth song about how there's always something that might be better somewhere else: "But this love's the one you know."

Carson Gardner wrote the lyrics for most of the songs, and Humphrey makes them her own through her strong interpretations. Two songs are inspired by Native American activist John Trudell: "DNA" is a powerful song about how no matter what is done externally to change a people, the truth of their identity is locked into their genetic code. Trudell's voice underscores and affirms the chorus. "Another Horse" is the second song Trudell inspired; it is a passionate and celebratory tribute with evocative lyrics such as "Your nightmares fill an ocean / But your dreams fill up the sky."

"500 Years," with lyrics by Humphrey, Gardner and Anne Dunn, is a catalogue of the crimes against the Native Americans over the past 500 years. (I confess to being a bit startled to see Quakers listed among those whose actions were harmful, but I'm willing to accept that I don't know both sides of story.) At the center of the song is a verse which lists the names of those who have fought for freedom.

Yet Humphrey's music unifies rather than divides. "The Heron Smiled" is a song of spiritual epiphany with which anyone can identify and while "Falling Down and Falling Apart" (by Sherman Alexie and Jim Boyd) is about a woman "Indian in her bones," I think just about any woman of any culture can identify with the lines: "But she don't want a warrior / And she don't want no brave / She don't want a renegade heading for an early grave."

The CD concludes with a reprise of "Spirit Horses," this time featuring John Trudell's voice under Humphrey's vocals.

For a powerful, passionate, emotionally and spiritually satisfying experience, reach for Annie Humphrey's The Heron Smiled.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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