Cherokee National Youth Choir,
with Gil Silverbird,
Building One Fire
(Cherokee Nation, 2002)

Building One Fire is a historically significant music collection that should be in the collection of every serious music lover. This CD contains the live performances made during the May 2002 trip by Principle Chief Chad Smith and the Cherokee National Youth Choir, acting as ambassadors of the Cherokee Nation, to New York City and Washington to commemorate the victims of 9-11. Inside the back cover are many small photos from the trip.

"America" was recorded at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian. "The Star Spangled Banner" was recorded at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., and was performed for DOI Secretary Gale Norton. The thing that is most striking about the performance of the U.S. National Anthem is that it is performed bilingually, with the first half in Cherokee and the rest in English.

Many of us believe that only a choir can properly perform the National Anthem. I really like the way it was done here. The tenors and bass singers anchor the penetrating high notes, while the harmony is beautiful. The layering is intense and works to soften this too-frequently heinous and torturous piece of music. When these kids hit the word "free," I got chills. They are in the clouds.

This CD begins in the Cherokee tradition of nature sounds and a flute. There is an introduction, "The Cherokee Legacy," a message from Principle Chief Smith taken from "Declaration of Designed Purpose," narrated by Gil Silverbird. It closes with a hard-hitting narration by Silverbird of a speech given by Redbird Smith in 1918.

Many people think only of North Carolina or Oklahoma as home to the Cherokee. However, the original area for the Cherokee, before their escape and retreat from the Trail of Tears, was in eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and northeastern Alabama, with their capital located in eastern Tennessee. That makes us hillbillies.

If you have any doubts that Cherokees are the original hillbillies, just listen to "I'll Fly Away." Jeffrey Gray Parker (see my review of his CD, Coyote Zen: Medicine Dog) rocks the house with the guitar, mandolin and bass, while Silverbird kicks in the piano in that "olde tyme" way that is still heard in the backwoods churches throughout the southeastern foothills. It is that special sound that makes worshippers need to get on their feet and do a bit of buck dancing. These two guys have an almost magical connection and come together with a smoothness found only rarely. When you add the featured vocals by Laura Miller, you have an off-the-charts rendition of this old favorite.

I could talk about the strong points of this CD all night. Silverbird, who has one of the finest "sing to me please" voices in the world, is featured in a song that he co-authored with Janice Ballou and Jeffrey Gray Parker, "I Di Tsa Le Ga." It begins with nature sounds, a haunting flute melody by Parker, and a rolling piano trill by Silverbird. Don Morris lays down a great foundation with his bass work to complete the layering. During the chorus, Silverbird does some outstanding background vocals. During his singing, the choir does the knockout background vocals. He demonstrates his skill by hitting a note and holding it while stepping it up five times with absolutely no loss of quality, tone, or volume. This song will enchant your soul and if you will listen to the words carefully, it just might change your life. It has an important message that should be heeded by all and is a bilingual number that all can understand.

This is an even better CD than the 2001 release, Voices of the Creator's Children, although that one was superb. This one has more vocal strength due to the larger number of choir members and is much better supported by exceptionally gifted musicians. Gil Silverbird is a much better singer than Rita Coolidge. This is the ideal CD to give any Christian, historian or serious collector of music, as well as your 10 closest friends. It is sure to please even the pickiest music critics and would make an ideal stocking stuffer. Order a few today.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 27 March 2004

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