Up Where She Belongs?
Up Where We Belong-- Alan Nielsen
Buffy Sainte-Marie rarely performs in this country, so I was lucky to see her last July at the Peter Britt Festival in Jacksonville, Oregon. She sang mostly songs from the new album and received two standing ovations from the 2,000 enthusiastic attendees. I had a chance to chat with her afterwards; we talked about everything from mouthbows to chamber music to the Buffy shrine in my studio (a.k.a. the sweat lodge). At the time, her new album was only available in Canada, so she was surprised that I already had it.
The material on Up Where We Belong spans a fascinating 32 year career. The fifteen songs are mostly new recordings of her early material (1964 - 1976), a few from her album Coincidence, a couple of new songs, and her first recording of the Academy Award-winning title song which she co-wrote for An Officer and a Gentleman. She describes her version as a "simpler songwriter's version" with Hawaiian slack key guitar. It is easy to forget the abrasive Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes recording.
The album begins with "Darling Don't Cry," her first single. The Red Bull Singers provide the powwow singing and appear in the video. This is a memorable tune that Sainte-Marie describes as a "cross the borders pop song": "Darling don't cry when I leave the USA/ If you like, I'll take you home when I go back to Canada," firmly states her Canadian loyalty.
New recordings of early material, such as "Cripple Creek," "Piney Wood Hills," "Universal Soldier" and "Until It's Time For You To Go" should appeal to the nostalgic. The latter has been recorded in over 17 languages and by over 200 artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Grover Washington Jr., Willie Nelson, Barbara Streisand and Roberta Flack. Surprisingly, "Indian Cowboy in the Rodeo" wound up on the album, but she is very proud of the fact that it was a hit in Boise in 1971. This was the first thing she mentioned when I told her I was from Boise. The new version has the same charm as of the Brady Bunch era original with the added bonus of the sampled powwow singing at the end.The best re-recorded track is definitely the title song from the movie Soldier Blue. The movie, starring Candice Bergen and Peter Strauss, dealt with the massacre of peaceful Cheyenne Indians at Sand Creek. The song describes the difference between loving one's natural environment and worshiping the nation-state. This has long been one of my favorite songs and the new recording is the best one yet. It begins with the recitative intro from the movie and includes excellent guitar work from Chris Birkett.
"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" seems to have replaced "My Country 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying" for her history lesson. The Indigo Girls have recently recorded "Wounded Knee" and released it as a single, with the proceeds going to Native American causes. The song details the circumstances of Leonard Peltier's set up and incarceration by our federal government and the execution of Annie Mae Aquash. Peltier and Aquash were in the American Indian Movement (AIM). Peltier was accused of killing two federal agents and Aquash "talked about uranium/ her head was filled with bullets and her body dumped/ the FBIs cut off her hands and told us she's died of exposure."* Peltier is still alive and in prison, although the federal government was found guilty of falsifying evidence to extradite him from Canada. He is #1 on Amnesty International's list of political prisoners. For more on this subject read Mary Crow Dog's autobiography Lakota Woman.
"Up Where We Belong" ends on a happier note with "Starwalker." In the forty-niner (English and powwow singing) the song speaks of the joys of being Native American. The song was originally recorded in 1976 on Sweet America when the movement was under attack from the U.S. government, and proceeds for the song now go to AIM. Up Where We Belong remains as a good introduction to Buffy's work.
This review originally appeared in 3 Syllables, issue 5, March 15, 1997. 3 Syllables is an arts and culture magazine, in Boise, Idaho, the city where "He's An Indian Cowboy In The Rodeo" reached #1!
Alan Nielsen is a bass clarinetist for the Boise Philharmonic. He is also the founder of Darkwood Consort, a chamber group that performs music spanning over seven centuries, including composers such as Landini, Mozart and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
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