Published Oct 30, 2015Last year's Native North America compilation of First Nations folk and rock stood as one of 2014's best reissues. Put together by veteran crate-digger Kevin "Sipreano" Howes, NNA brought many singers and bands from the '60s and '70s to a new audience — native and non — and left many of us wanting more. That's exactly what we get with Spirit Child, a Light in the Attic reissue of Willie Thrasher's 1981 LP.
Thrasher was born in the Northwest Territories in 1948, still makes a living busking in Nanaimo, BC, and plays regularly in Vancouver (including at last summer's Levitation festival), so it's a real bonus to be able to hear what he was doing over 30 years ago.
Recorded at a commercial studio in Ottawa (and reissued with the original CBC album design), Spirit Child is an amazing record for how it bridges country-folk styles — slack string and steel guitar, vocals reminiscent of Neil Young but outlaw country tinges that recall the likes of Waylon and Willie — and traditional Inuvialuit concerns. So, we have songs about whaling ("Shingle Point Whale Camp"), Inuit arts and crafts ("Old Man Carver") and a couple of tunes in Inuvialuktun and English ("Old Man Inuit" and "Silent Inuit").
These last two — sort of a talking blues call-and-response — are, like many of Thrasher's songs, no doubt a response to his years in residential schools in the 1950s, where native children were forbidden to speak their own language and, in Thrasher's case, had their long hair cut.
But it's Thrasher's musical artistry — and even weirdness — that makes this record hold up all these decades later. Dubbed "Aboriginal psych folk" by the label, Thrasher's twang reaches its pinnacle with the gem "Wolves Don't Live by the Rules," a song that wouldn't be out of place in the heyday of '90s alt-country (David Berman and the Silver Jews, anyone?). Like Spirit Child as a whole, "Wolves" steps into your brain and just won't leave. (Light In The Attic)