Joanne Shenandoah,
(Silver Wave, 2003)

Singer Joanne Shenandoah is among the better-known Native American recording artists. A member of the Six Nations Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee), she has had a long and noteworthy recording career and shows no signs of slowing down. She continues her work as musical ambassador for the Haudenosaunee on Covenant.

Covenant opens with the spoken-word piece, "Giving Thanks." Chief Jake Swamp-Tekaronianekon of the Mohawk Nation recites the traditional prayer of thanksgiving that "opens all social and spiritual gatherings" while Shenandoah chants in the background over an understated rhythm track. It is an appropriate opening for the album, which accentuates Haudenosaunee heritage and history in a modern setting.

Most of Covenant is composed of richly textured cuts that combine Shenandoah's voice, electronic rhythm tracks, samples, traditional flute and percussion, and cello. The liner notes give a great deal of information about each track's place in Haudenosaunee culture, but as the CD spins, the pieces blend together into an entrancing whole. Those seeking rootsy Native American music may be dismayed by the electronics and synthesizers, but the overall effect works. It is almost symphonic, but the programming adds a contemporary edge to the music. Michael Kott's lovely cello playing distinguishes pieces like "Prepare Yourself," a prophecy of troubled times. Even the tracks that emphasize percussion, like "100 Winters," have a calming serenity about them. Over it all runs Shenandoah's voice, as beautiful as it is strong. The lyrics of the songs, repeated again and again, may insinuate themselves into your thoughts if you're not careful.

In the end, the piece that stays with me the most is "Everyone Stand Up," Covenant's finale. The backing vocals remind me of the Roches with their slightly sharp edge. Shenandoah's chorus, "I was born here/I will die here/They will see us from the sky," sounds like a promise, a threat or a prophecy with its enigmatic words. In the background, the strings sound almost plaintive. Best to call it haunting and let each listener discover his or her own meaning here.

Covenant may not delight purists, but Shenandoah's fans will want to follow her journey, and those who like new age music should check out this album. Shenandoah's blend of tribal heritage and modern sounds is an intriguing one and one well worth hearing.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 3 April 2004

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