Published May 13, 2015Apparently nobody told Buffy Sainte-Marie to slow down when she hit her eighth decade on this earth. But, even if they did, who'd expect her to listen? At 74 years old, this perennially underrated artist sounds as vital and as urgent as ever on this, her 18th record. In fact, Power In The Blood might just be the best album she's made since the late 1960s. Recording in Toronto with producers Michael Phillip Wojewoda (Rheostatics), Jon Levine (K'NAAN) and Chris Birkett (Sinéad O'Connor), the Canadian-born Cree singer-songwriter and activist has found just the right sonic home for her singular voice.
On a diverse, even eclectic, collection ranging from caustic political missives ("Uranium War," a terrific re-working of her early composition "It's My Way") to tender, vulnerable ballads ("Ke Sakihitin Awasis," "Orion") to hard-driving rock ("Not The Loving Kind," "Generation") to borderline EDM funk ("Power in the Blood"), her band grooves and drives with consummate skill. Apart from a wilting foray into smooth rock territory (the less-said-the-better track "Love Charms"), this thing is an utter triumph.
Listen to the tension Sainte-Marie and her band create and sustain on "Not The Loving Kind," a classic kiss-off tune in the "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" vein (that was written in the mid 70s while she was blacklisted by the U.S. government). Her edgy composition rides only two chords, mimicking a blues structure, but offering no resolving chord to restore the balance. Listening to her fierce vocal performance, you are stuck, as she is, in this off-kilter place, moving back and forth between the two chords, the love/hate at the end of the affair. Brilliant stuff.
Truly there is no song I've heard this year that's affected me (on the first and on the 31st listen) as deeply as "Ke Sakihitin Awasis"; by turns a slow-burning love song, a lament for something lost and a dream of renewal and rebirth, this magisterial lullaby alone is enough to justify recording everything else that surrounds it. Power In The Blood is a masterpiece in a storied career. (True North)