Recent live appearances by Buffy Sainte-Marie show her, once again, setting herself apart from early colleagues like Joan Baez and Judy Collins. The Native American composer/singer/activist has always reveled in defying expectations of what a female folkie of a certain age should sound or behave like — her stage presence, all unrestrained twirling and wallop packing, places her closer to the tradition of a performance artist like Yoko Ono (or even Karen O.).
Her latest recordings (available for a while now in her native Canada) are finally being released in the US, with an extra DVD documenting her journey from exotic coffeehouse darling to hit songwriter to her current incarnation as a harbinger of Native-consciousness songs masquerading as avant-garde dance tracks. The first part of Running for the Drum greets you with this strange fusion of ancient campfire chants and what might described as a ravy beat.
Anti-greed anthem "No No Kashegesh" and "Working for the Government" sandwich standout should-be-single "Cho Cho Fire," a powerhouse vocal performance that screams for a bona fide techno remix for clubbers' consumption. Later, this long album meanders through a series of genre experiments and evocations (neo-'50s, Top 40 ballad, etc.). But even if Sainte-Marie tries to cram too much into her joyous return to the limelight, Running for the Drum is proof that a path that began with the powerful "Universal Soldier" back in the early 1960s won't be fading gracefully into the usual sunset of folk retirement.