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Music Review: Buffy Sainte-Marie – Running For The Drum (CD + DVD)

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For anyone who came of age during the sixties folk movement, the name Buffy does not conjure up the image of a blonde vampire killer.

Buffy Sainte-Marie has traveled a lot of musical miles since the issue of her debut album in 1964. She is a sixties artist who has keep the faith in the ideals established by the folk movement of that era. She is also a Native American artist who has remained true to her heritage.

Her body of work is extensive but she is remembered most for several signature performances and original songs. Her best known recording is probably a cover of the classic Joni Mitchell song, “The Circle Game.” Her original composition, “Until Its Time For You To Go,” has been recorded by such artists as Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, and Neil Diamond, among many others. Additionally, she co-wrote “Up Where We Belong” for the movie An Officer and A Gentleman, which won her an Oscar.

She has now returned with her first album of all new material in 13 years. Running For The Drum is an eclectic collection of twelve original songs which center on her life as an activist, pacifist, and Native American. Among them she also includes a couple of love songs and a few others just for fun. Her voice has aged well and does not have the shrill edge it once had. Her lyrics, though, remain her greatest strength as she is able to paint pictures with words as she communicates her thoughts and feelings.

The lead track, “No No Keshagesh,” has a rocking beat but is a biting criticism of modern society. She continues in a critical vein with “Working For The Government” which looks beneath the seemingly peaceful surface of our government. “Little Wheel and Spin” is a throwback to her sixties work as its simplicity and topic are, to me, reminiscent of her “Universal Soldier.”

The two tracks that are just for fun are actually very strong songs. “I Bet My Heart On You,” complete with honky-tonk piano, is a tribute to New Orleans and particularly Fats Domino. And “Blue Sunday” is an Elvis Presley clone that she gets just right.

The most sophisticated song is “Too Much Is Never Enough,” on which she sings about heroes, love and loss. The lyrics are some of her finest.

“Cho Cho Fire” is a return to her roots and the campfire, featuring chanting in the background. “America The Beautiful” is adjusted to include Native Americans which works better than it sounds.

The accompanying DVD is a generous documentary of her life as an artist and performer, tracing her journey from the sixties to the present with many clips and still photographs. Interviews with such people as Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, and Eric Anderson serve to enhance the experience.  

Running For The Drum is a fine addition to Buffy Sainte-Marie's catalogue and legacy. She remains unintimidated by life and her surroundings and, as a result, she has issued an album of strength and beauty.

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