Buffy Sainte-Marie,
Running for the Drum
(Appleseed, 2009)

In the early 1960s, when I was a kid hanging out in Fort Lauderdale, I ran into a friend of mine in front of the Elbow Room, a legendary beach-front bar. "Listen," he said, "come around to the Catacombs with me. There's somebody you got to see there."

The Catacombs was a coffee house, down the alley from the Elbow Room. We went in, and there on the stage about 10 feet away from us, playing to a rapturous capacity crowd of about 50 people, was a young Native American woman playing a mouth bow. I became a huge fan of Buffy Sainte-Marie that night, and over the next 45 years my devotion has never wavered.

Now, I'm being paid off by Sainte-Marie's first album in 13 years, and it's a beauty. The world has changed a lot in 45 years, but Sainte-Marie has remained insistently her own woman, going her own way. She has neither become a nostalgia act, burdened by her old music, nor has she abandoned her earlier styles and concerns. She has, however, deepened. Her work is stronger, truer and more powerful than it has ever been.

Running for the Drum opens with three unclassifiable songs, songs that use all the weapons in her arsenal. With their roots deep in Native-American rhythms and dances, they take on corporate greed and contemporary politics, familiar protest themes of Sainte-Marie's. They include elements of folk, rock, pop and electronic, in addition to powwow chants. The songs are stunning. After this mini-set, she uses a fine version of "Little Wheel Turn & Spin" as a transition into a vaired set of love songs, contemporary blues and rock. "When I Had You" is a torch song, while "I Bet My Heart on You" features Sainte-Marie and Taj Mahal on twin pianos. "Blue Sunday" could have been recorded in Sam Phillips' Sun Studios with Jerry Lee Lewis on piano and Carl Perkins on guitar.

One thing Buffy Sainte-Marie has never been is predictable. She has always confounded people's expectations, always gone in directions no casual listener could have anticipated, and Running for the Drum continues that tradition. It's brilliant and original. To my mind, anybody interested in where Americana music has been and is going needs to hear it.

Also brilliant is the DVD biographical film that is included in the set. Titled Buffy Sainte-Marie: a Multimedia Life, this Canadian-made film that traces her life, covering her upbringing, her early days as Greenwich Village folky to her current activities. It's a film that will spend more than one viewing in your DVD player.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

21 November 2009

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new