The 34 tracks on Native North America, Vol. 1: Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country 1966-1985 were curated and painstakingly annotated by Kevin "Sipreano" Howe. He assembled this set from independent, often privately pressed, 45s and LPs culled from garage sales, flea markets, private collections, and broadcast sources from the CBC archives. Its focus is solely on music from the Canadian side of the North American border, while its purpose is to document the sonic wellspring that emerged as aboriginal peoples used media and cultural surfaces in Canada and across the continent to express individual and collective identities. Packaged in a hardback, cloth-bound book full of artist biographies and interviews, this is a document that turns Eurocentric culture back on itself, using it to serve different ends. Many of these artists employ popular musical forms and readily reflect the influences of Woody Guthrie, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, CCR, Phil Ochs, Buffalo Springfield, Hank Williams, and Hank Snow, but they stand apart in doing so. The music's central themes are almost uniquely Native American in the manner of reportage, history, and storytelling. Topically, they can range from community-based reflections to nature and socio-political commentary as well as less weighty insights. Taken as a whole they leave a record of everyday life from the perspective of a historical, often ancient identity. There is a poignance in virtually every song (even the deliberately humorous ones), because they are rooted in cultures that have been marginalized to the edge of extinction by Anglo colonization and the long reach of capitalism. Sometimes they are offered in the code of tribal languages. There are many highlights, but more importantly, there is virtually no filler. Willie Dunn (who passed in 2013 while this was being assembled and bookends the collection) has three tracks here, as do songwriters Willie Thrasher and Willy Mitchell - they all come from various roots and branches in the folk-rock tree of aboriginal consciousness and activism. Their collected nine songs would have made a fantastic comp by themselves. But there is real stylistic diversity here. There's the grooving pop in the Sikumiut Band's self-titled song, the haunted country-rock of Ernest Monias' "Tormented Soul, " the Canadian folk-country frames of Alexis Utatnaq's "Maqaivvigivalauqtavut" (sung in Inuktitut) and Morley Loon's traditional Cree chant set in psychedelic effects on "N'Doheeno." Disc two includes the surf instrumental "Modern Rock" by the Saddle Lake Drifting Cowboys; the Chieftones' multi-harmony vocal group pop "I Shouldn't Have Did What I Done, " and William Tagoona's baroque country rock "Anaanaga." The last ten minutes include two chants: Groupe Folklorique Montagnais's Inuit "Tshekuan Mak Tshetutamak" and Dunn's "Peruvian Dream 2" with Jerry Saddleback, which deliberately attempts a rockist pow wow. This is killer music from another present era, a reality that has co-existed with the "official "one that ignores it. Due to Howe's exhaustive efforts, that story - an essential part of the continent's cultural narrative - begins to emerge. It's not only fantastic, it's necessary.
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