When you consider the list of topics which routinely pop up in albums we review, it’s mostly a litany of love stories, often lost love with loneliness and sorrow following in its wake. There’s also plenty of drinking and searching and travelling, highs and lows and sometimes jubilation. Cowboys, cosmic or otherwise, often pop up, but the fate of the American Native tribes is relatively rare, so this album, the second solo release from ex-Pines man, David Huckfelt is a welcome addition to those few we have had occasion to cover.
Huckfelt, a former theology student, already had an interest in “spiritual” themes when he met and became friends with the late John Trudell in 2005. Trudell was a Native American activist, musician and writer and he infused in Huckfelt an appreciation of Native American culture and beliefs, many of which have informed this album. Huckfelt is at pains to say that Room Enough, Time Enough is not a concept album but rather, “a “tribute” to Native history, politics, and spirituality that integrates the “vocabulary of American folk music” with the rich vision of Native life.” In particular, he notes that modern America has lost sight of traditional values as espoused by Native Americans and the immigrants who created American folk music. He treads here in the footsteps of Johnny Cash who released an album inspired by Native American lore, Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, back in 1964 and it is indeed, bitter, that Native Americans are still under attack by the state over issues such as water rights.
Huckfelt recorded the album in Tucson, close to the traditional territory of the Navajo, their name for that territory giving the album its title. There are familiar names from the Tucson musical community involved, including Howe Gelb, Billy Sedlmayer and Winston Watson from the Giant Sand axis while erstwhile Calexico players, Jon Villa and Connor Gallaher are onboard. Importantly, Huckfelt invited several Native American artists to cement the line up, primarily Keith Secola, who contributes lyrics to several of the songs, Jackie Bird on vocals, and, a major foil of the late Trudell, the Warm Springs Nation Native singer Milton “Quiltman” Sahme whose vocal chants are the most obvious connection to Native American influences.
The album itself is quite exquisite. Huckfelt sets the scene from the off with the mellow Better To See The Face which positively glows with that ambient sound one associates with Daniel Lanois, a glimmer of guitar effects over a sturdy country folk backing with Huckfelt’s deep vocals summoning up nature and spirits. This lambent feel is repeated on several songs such as the cover of Satisfied Mind and especially, on the magnificent Book Of Life, written by Secola and which is the centrepiece of the album, while Land of Room Enough, Time Enough is a Dylan like epic with a pedal steel solo and is quite cosmic. Dylan’s shadow can be glimpsed again in the tangled guitars and Gypsy violin of Gambler’s Dharma and his forebear, Woody Guthrie, comes to mind on the frontier tale which is Cole Younger where Huckfelt shares vocals with Billy Sedlmayer whose voice sounds as old as the hills. The old west also features on a grand take of Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie which bustles with the cinematic grandeur of Calexico at their best, guttural guitars and soaring horns all in place while Journey To The Spirit World is a fine slice of unhinged desert rock
Lyrically, Huckfelt cleaves close to themes regarding the environment and the ancient tribal beliefs throughout the album but his dedication to a Native American philosophy is most clearly pronounced towards the end of the album. He covers Patti Smith’s Ghost Dance, a song inspired by the Lakota Sioux rebellion of the 1890s, and which, with Quiltman’s chants heavily featured, packs a much more powerful punch than the original. Finally, Calling Thunderbird Blues is a ferocious polemic which recalls John Trudell’s work as it drills into a jagged blues meltdown of distorted guitars, wailing harmonica and, the last voice to be heard on the album, Quiltman, singing for his ancestors.