on 10 January 2011
Many, many years ago, I bought this record with my pocket money. I had heard the title song "Little Wheel Spin and Spin" on the radio and Buffy's powerful and unusual singing made the hairs stand up on my neck.
When I got my hand on the album, I loved everything about it; the classic folk tunes such as "House Carpenter", "Waly Waly" and "Lady Margaret" and her own songs such as "Sometimes When I Get To Thinking Of You" and "My Country 'Tis Of Thy People You're Dying". These siongs have their roots in Buffy's American Indian culture and her strong political views.
A few days ago, I came across a CD version. I bought it, a bit worried that it might not have the same old magic. I need not have feared. This is a powerful and enduring folk classic - as good as anything Buffy Sainte-Marie ever produced.
Great singing, great playing (guitar and mouthbow) that sounds as fresh today as over 40 years ago.
This was Buffy's third LP, after the excellent It's My Way and even better Many a Mile (still one of her best), released in 1966, and it is just as wondrous, containing one of her defining songs, the ruefully enraged My Country 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying, its very title a riff on one of America's most famous national anthems. Buffy was born a Cree Indian in Canada (though she grew up in Massachusetts) and has remained a forthright and untiring defender of the rights of the American Indian. My Country... is a coruscating seven-minute rant which even now leaves me breathless with sadness and impotent anger each time I listen to it.
Four other self-penned highlights of this lovely set of twelve songs are the gently flowing Sometimes When I Get to Thinking (revived later on her 'County Girl' album), the self-explanatory Men of the Fields, the tender Timeless Love, and Winter Boy, one of Buffy's brief, jewel-like songs that gleams for a moment and is gone before you know it.
The traditional Waly Waly is a song sung by many, but rarely with such haunting intensity as here. House Carpenter, Lady Margaret, and Sir Patrick Spens are three more well-known trad songs, the latter astounding, all sung with her customary sensitivity to mood and texture.
My personal favourite track is Rolling Log Blues, on which Buffy sounds so warm and abandoned that I just feel good each time I hear it. It's one of her slightly nostalgic, keenly yearning numbers - this one adapted from a fine song by '20s blues singer Lottie Kimbrough - that I love so much (another being Piney Wood Hills on the Many a Mile album):
Driftin' and rollin' along the road
Tryin' to bear my heavy load
Like a log that's been cast on the side
I'm so heavy and so tired
Buffy could sing just about anything and make it her own. To have these now classic albums available on CD, so well packaged too, is a joy past expressing. After this one, she became more experimental, yet losing none of her essential spirit, or that impassioned voice which sounds like no other.