buffysaintemarierunningforthedrumWhat have Elvis, The Charlatans, Joe Cocker, and Big Bird got in common? They've all sung songs by Buffy St. Marie, and now she's back after a seventeen year break since her last album - which indeed was a similar period after its predecessor (created via the first documented use of the internet to transport music files by the way). As you might expect, there's a huge and, to a new listener, sometimes disconcerting variation in styles that mirror the range of issues and influences that have been whirling around in her fertile eco-aware brain in the meantime. And that's not the mind of a faded star idling in neutral whilst living off the fat of the land on some island paradise (well she does live in Hawaii now anyhow). Most of Buffy's creative effort in the past twenty years when not actually still frequently performing has been as a visual (especially pioneer digital) artist and the creation and funding of an educational programme for raising awareness of aboriginal (her word i.e. North American Indian in this context) culture. Scanning through the limited edition retrospective/introductory DVD that accompanies this release, it's clear what a full and inspiring life she's led since being adopted and taken from a Cree (Canadian) Indian reservation to be raised in a white town in Maine. An isolated childhood led to an escape through music, and final blooming in the more cosmopolitan environment of university. Co-opted into the NY-based protest movement in the mid sixties, after her own breakthrough Buffy gave Joni Mitchell a leg-up, and campaigned tirelessly for aboriginal rights - believing that the anti-war movement had enough spokesmen. She often wrote love songs from the heart rather than following a political agenda per se, and recorded country and experimental electronic albums as well as penning the title track of graphically shocking (for the time) Native American genocide film (and Vietnam allegory) Soldier Blue, and most famously 'Universal Soldier' - as virtually purloined by Donovan. Being unofficially blacklisted ("to be suppressed" on White House documentation), a lack of mainstream radio play forced her to consider new directions - hence the art, a several year family residence on Sesame Street (including breastfeeding), and many film scores and songs. Most famously she coined in with the Oscar winning theme from An Officer And A Gentleman - the spastic writhing of Joe Cocker making that everyone's guilty pleasure. Her version is much more stripped down and emotionally fragile.So what's a 68 year old got to offer a TLOBF-attuned listener? From the starting trio it seems quite a lot! All are more Bjork than Baez. All sample authentic pow-wow chanting to great effect spliced into powerful pop beats ('Working For The Government' is more G-A-Y than Greenwich Village) and are lyrically as venomous as anything a teenage eco-warrior could write today. She's still sticking it to the multinational Man. "Oh Columbus he was looking good / When he got lost in our neighbourhood / Garden of Eden right before his eyes / Now it's all spyware, now it's all income tax" - 'No No Keshagesh' (No No Greedy Guts). 'Cho Cho Fire' is indeed one of the best cuts of the year so far - Buffy's tremulous voice soars over fuzzy rock guitar and whiplash rhythms. 'Little Wheel Spin And Spin' marks a transition from these blood-pumping tracks. It's a haunting reworking of one of her earlier folk songs with sonic atmospherics: wheels within wheels - but the actions (or inactions) of individuals can make a difference.The decidedly middle-of-the-road 'Too Much Is Never Enough' is certainly no 'Up Where We Belong' (cue Bryan Adams style guitar solo), and is followed by another puffed up, overwrought love song that strains to fill its allotted time, and a jazzy blues piece that, whilst better, still pales whilst the memory of the opening tracks lingers. Thankfully, things get shaken up by a fun New Orleans boogie with Taj Mahal dueting on piano, and a fresh pre-Army Elvis pastiche that's a reminder that Buffy was a teenager when the King took the world by storm. However, we return to the over-produced centre of the highway for a couple more tracks, although the songs are inherently stronger and therefore just about palatable (including an aboriginally rebranded version of the U.S. unofficial anthem 'America The Beautiful'), and end with a pleasantly folksy celebration of love and the natural world.Buffy Sainte-Marie is to be respected, obviously, and there is much to like here. The power, passion and relevance are still there in spurts, but the beauty of her writing is more readily found in sparse arrangements not drowned in schmaltz. Being difficult to categorise is a positive, but makes Running For The Drum a patchy experience from whichever end of the musical spectrum you approach it. Recommended for an internet-enabled track-by-track pick'n'mix then. Oh the irony.58%Buffy Sainte-Marie on MySpace