Follow Us on Twitter

Buffy Sainte-Marie - Running For The Drum

Buffy Sainte-Marie, Running For The Drum

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

RUNNING For The Drum marks the first new album of material from Buffy Sainte-Marie in 15 years – since 1992’s Coincidence And Likely Stories.
It contains 12 new songs inspired by current events, art, politics and the Aboriginal people and was recorded in her home studio in Hawaii.

It has already won a JUNO award for Aboriginal Album of the Year in Canada and comes with an accompanying DVD, A Multimedia Life, that received a JUNO nomination. The DVD marks the first time Buffy’s extraordinary life story has been told on screen. It chronicles her story from her early days bursting onto the Greenwich Village folk scene in the 60’s, to becoming an Oscar-winning songwriter, a Sesame Street regular, an international Aboriginal spokesperson and a pioneering digital artist.

The hour long documentary also features interviews with several well known musicians and includes archival footage and music from a dozen or so songs of hers including Up Where We Belong, the anti-war anthem Universal Soldier and more.

The new album, meanwhile, is a fascinating insight into Buffy’s mindset and songwriting skills. Combining radio-friendly elements and Native American chanting, it’s both traditional (in the truest sense of the word) and contemporary. Yet not always successful.

At its best, songs like Working For The Government deliver astute observations on American life amid urgent, vibrant rhythm sections and some stirring Native American chanting. While album opener No No Keshagesh delivers a similarly impassioned anti-developer rant driven by a pow-wow beat and some quick-fire guitar riffs.

But her decision to include America The Beautiful, albeit ironically, is a bit of a turn-off and seems patriotic at first listen even though it’s anything but. It includes the rarely performed line: “Till selfish gain no longer stain the banner of the free.”

There’s an appealing folksy element to tracks like Easy Like The Snow Falls Down, while her rollicking Elvis Presley tribute Blue Sunday is delivered in rebel-rousing style, as if she’s really enjoying herself.

Sadly, there’s not enough of those moments. Tracks like When I Had You, while more personal and less political, are too laboured and a little too jazzy for Buffy’s style… a failing that affects To The Ends of the World too. She’s not afraid of diversity and mixing up her musical styles, which is a good thing. But sometimes this can compromise the overall accessibility and enjoyability.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to have Buffy back. She’s an intriguing artist, and a rare talent [as the accompanying DVD will confirm]. But she’s also an acquired taste and Running For The Drum requires quite a bit of effort to really get the best from it. Listeners may not find themselves returning to it that often.

Download picks: No No Keshagesh, Working For The Government, Blue Sunday

Track listing:

  1. No No Keshagesh
  2. Cho Cho Fire
  3. Workin’ for the Government
  4. Little Wheel Spin and Spin
  5. Too Much is Never Enough
  6. To the Ends of the World
  7. When I Had You
  8. Bet My Heart on You
  9. Blue Sunday
  10. Easy Like the Snow Falls Down
  11. America the Beautiful
  12. Still This Love Goes On