Genuinely mysterious and absorbing, this is one of the more striking works to come out of the "psychedelic" sixties. On many of the songs, Buffy teamed up with Peter Schickele (yes, P.D.Q. Bach in his other life!) on songs that featured primitive but effective electronic experimentation. "God is Alive, Magic is Afoot," is one example, as BSM sings across/over an eerie musical backdrop that the listener gradually comes to recognize is a heavily treated recording of her singing the same song. In spite of the experimentation, it's spine-chilling and beautiful.
At the same time, Sainte-Marie kept her folk roots and her social consciousness intact. The voice-and-acoustic "Suffer the Little Children," with its commentary on capitalism, would not sound out of place on her earlier albums, and the downright sensuous "Guess Who I Saw In Paris" is one of her best love songs.
The real fascination here, though, is how far afield Buffy goes. In "Keeper of the Fire" she provides a Jorma Kaukonen like guitar solo with her voice on the ride-out, and "Poppies" is outrageously trippy and far ahead of its time, reminding the listener of an early version of Enya or Loreena McKennitt.
The album was not a commercial success in its day, primarily because it was so "out of character" for what Buffy's fans wanted. But thirty-odd years later it still sounds subversive and strange. The album combines Buffy Sainte-Marie's natural warmth and power with eerie and transcendent moments quite unlike anything else out there at the time (or now). Very much a lost classic, "Illuminations" is not just for folkies. Anyone with an interest in psychedelia or the unusual will find a lot to like here. One of her best and well worth having.