Tappin' the Earth's Backbone opens with an extremely strong Gordon Lightfoot atmosphere in Legends of Glacier, but there's also a John Denvery high mountains feel allied to it, not to mention that chipper cheerful tone Denver always carried. The Denver vibe continues with When Napi Roasted Gophers but a curious element enters in: a sense of earthy humor that John totally lacked and Lightfoot displayed only between songs (in concert). Not just humor, though, as Gladstone strongly favors allegory and moralistic fable-making. The song is a classic of anthropomorphic yarnspinning about Napi (the Blackfeet version of the trickster god) and his encounter with a hobbled bobcat, a tale children will delight in, as will adults.
In fact, much of this CD is dual purpose, as fresh and attractive to young ears as to their parents'. Gladstone sings in a high clear voice—as said, that and his rhythms are constantly much in affinity with Lightfoot, someone I'm very much fond of and always have been. Thus, I'd no problem whatsoever taking to Gladstone within three heartbeats, nor was the fact that his work is the equal of some of the kindred materials the Putumayo label produces lost on me. The core of what the singer-composer is doing here was tried in various New Age venues, bungled horribly, then successfully transfused in the Windham Hill releases adapting fairy tales and tall tales via top-notch musicians (Mark Isham, etc.) and famed actors and actresses (Robin Williams, Kelly McGillis, etc.). Gladstone rivals those fondly remembered Windham Hill materials, maybe even surpasses them.
Sometimes Eagles turns to the historic fact of Natives having the highest rate of volunteerism among ethnic groups in America during WWII, which should provoke a stunned pause in the revisionism of bigots like Rush Limbaugh. The song tracks The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald nicely, a mournful trumpet backgrounding the elegaic nature of the cut. "Over Tokyo and Berlin" follows and revives a traditional Blackfeet WWII warrior song. It's a unique piece, one long forgotten, and might do the country a hell of a lot of good, should anyone want to consider just how grossly we've been mis-educated about the Native cultures we brutally ravished in the securing of "our" country.
Gladstone himself is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and has been writing these songs since 1991, finally gathering them up in this 15-track disc, which also features enhanced cuts for multimedia computer display after you're done listening on the CD player. He handles most of the guitar work but recruited 15 other musicians and a buncha kids from a Montessori school to fill out a very well produced and engineered release. Lloyd Maines particularly stands out with marvelous pedal steel, dobro, mandolin, and other string work, a superlative player. Think of Tappin' the Earth's Backbone as a highly unusual, and probably unique, blend of history, fable, music, morality play, and intertribal (and I mean all tribes all over the earth—as his philosophy embraces cosmology rather than ethnicities) artwork. Then think of it as a CD with few companions, one that will hopefully inspire more in this vein
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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