Friday, June 15, 2012

In review--Honoring the Elders

Randall Paskemin
Cree Round Dance Songs
Canyon Records

Tony Duncan
Earth Warrior (Native American Flute)
Canyon Records

I first encountered Cree singer Randall Paskemin when he released a children’s album, Goodnight, Sweet Dreams, I Love You (Canyon Records).  His newest CD, Emotions features love songs for adults, sung in the same passionate and witty voice as the previous album.  You listen to this set of round dance songs, with the gentle thump of the frame drum accompanied by soaring vocals and you might just want to hang out with Randall. Certainly, he seems articulate and reflective with his songs telling slice-of-life stories.

The love song Tattoo tells us about a man who doesn’t need to get a tattoo to prove his love to his partner.  She’s My Girl revolves around a dual by two men who love the same woman.  Marlon Deschamps plays the role of the other man.  All I Have to Do is Close My Eyes features a different kind of love, between Randall and his deceased father who is still in communication.  Paskemin closes the thoughtful set of songs with Change (Save the World) which acts as both a prayer and a plea to wake up humanity.  Similar to Northern Cree singer Randy Wood, Paskemin has given his listeners an accessible sound that falls on the romantic and relaxing side.

Multi-tribal Native American flutist Tony Duncan (Estun-Bah, From Where the Sun Rises, Canyon Records) also returns to my CD player with his solo album, Earth Warrior.  Perfect title, since we find ourselves walking a spiritual warrior path because of the tensions we have experienced around the world in 2012.  Yet, Duncan offers us a respite with his gentle flute and generous musical talent.  Joining Duncan on several tracks is his Estun-Bah band mate Darrin Yazzie (guitar), as well as, Toby Jose (vocals), Ken Duncan, Sr. (storyteller), and Ryan Polequeptewa (vocals).

In his long list of acknowledgements Duncan mentions R. Carlos Nakai as an inspiration.  He mentions in the liner notes that he spent his learning years listening closely to Nakai’s technique.  But there is more to Duncan’s playing than technique, he also has talent with arranging traditional songs and composing heartfelt melodies that honor his elders, the natural world and traditions handed down to him.  In so many ways, Duncan mirrors Nakai’s early and middle work with heartfelt playing and bringing a grounded quality to a lofty instrument.  Alone or with guitar or with vocals, Earth Warrior conveys a powerful recording that tames tension.

I enjoy listening to these songs anytime of day, but these songs work best during sunrise.  I have also listened to the songs while meditating. It warms my heart to hear younger musicians honoring their traditions and not giving into the concept of rock and pop fusion. Just listen to the opening track, Zuni Sunrise or Elders Speak with Yazzie’s warm guitar, or the chant performed by Polequeptewa and you might feel hope for this planet's future.  The peaceful album closes with Words from My Father featuring a story by Ken Duncan, Sr. with Yazzie on guitar.