1966, Music

Little Wheel Spin and Spin (1966) by Buffy Sainte-Marie

This is my first encounter with Buffy Sainte-Marie’s music – save covers of “Universal Soldier” – though I’ve known of her for longer than I can remember. (Is it possible one of my parents had an LP that never got played?) It seems I should have started with her earlier records, but I honestly missed those anniversaries for some reason or other.

This is an extremely traditional and primitive sounding recording for 1966. A little bit like Lightfoot’s first record, in the lack of acknowledgement of the musical trends of the time, but even more striking. (Lightfoot has the excuse of recording earlier and having his record delayed.) Apparently it’s way less sparse than her earliest records, which is something. And it’s been criticized (because of course it has) for making too many concessions to the mainstream. That’s bizarre, given how of another time it sounds.

Sainte-Marie’s voice is both quite distinct and often extremely old timey sounding, which is one reason why the album itself sounds pre-British Invasion most of the time. It’s easy to imagine why she didn’t break like the other Canadian folkies – her voice is aggressively of another era on some of tracks. (She almost yodels sometimes.) I find that appealing – better to sing like yourself or your ancestors than to adopt the smooth folk rock voice – but I can see why some didn’t. She can sing more softly, too, though and you do wonder if she was ever pressured to sing more softly more of the time. (I hear an influence on Joanna Newsom, perhaps.)

It’s a mixture of traditional songs – most of them I don’t know well – and originals. Her originals are biting in the best sense of ’60s folk songs. I had no idea she was this biting. Check out “My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying,” which is on the level of Phil Ochs or early Bob Dylan in terms of righteous fury. It’s incredible and I wish I had been exposed to it sooner. (Why haven’t I, Canada?)

Normally I’m pretty critical of these folk singers who seem to have completely ignored rock and roll. But I’m quite impressed by my first experience of her songs, her singing and her mouth bow, an instrument I hadn’t heard of before. Maybe I’d feel differently if I’d heard her earlier records, but I haven’t.

Why did it take me so long to listen to her?


Note: I wrote this review before I learned that Buffy Sainte-Marie is an Italian American, i.e. a pretendian.

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