Darrell Norman
& Ramon Kramer,
The Return of the Buffalo Horses
(SOAR, 2001)

"The horses are coming."

What? I spun around, surprised and a little frightened. Horses? Where?

Then I remembered: I was listening to Return of the Buffalo Horses. I had been warned that this was a story-song album, telling a Blackfoot legend about the discovery and recovery of horses in America. So I was expecting a bit of a musical lead-in, maybe a "Once Upon a Time" opening. I hadn't expected this low voice that -- no matter how loud I turned it up or where in the room I stood it sounded like it was whispering directly over my shoulder.

The album is divided into four chapters introduced by a short spoken piece. These introductions occur with no warning or apology, and grab the attention of any listener who may have been drifting. The first tells of the triumphant discovery of the elk-dog, the horse, by the Blackfeet. Chapter two might be thought of as adventure with the horse, as The People reshape the elk-dog into something more fitted for plains living -- faster than the buffalo. Chapter three tells the too-familiar story of last homes and lost hope, as the Blackfeet are forced off their land, losing their traditions, their lives and their beloved horses. The loss of the horses, painted in notes, is so painful, the arrival of the blue-coated government troops in their pipes and drums so inevitable, that the announcement which leads off chapter four is a shock. The horses, we are promised, are returning. The horses are here! The announcement is so authoritative I was once again listening for hoofbeats. It should be authoritative, for it's true. With the efforts of the Blackfeet Buffalo Horse Coalition, the Spanish Mustangs are returning.

Darrell Norman, who leads off Return of the Buffalo Horses, is downright scary when you aren't expecting him, and even when you are, his voice sucks you in. The one real complaint I have about Return of the Buffalo Horses is that they don't make enough use of Norman. While the musical choices are fine and paint a convincing story on their own, he has a perfect storyteller's voice, so rough and unobtrusive it sounds like the ground talking. It creates the atmosphere of a campfire story session with just a few words, and blends with the music instead of distracting from it.

At the same time, I don't know exactly what else he could do. Return of the Buffalo Horses is one of those albums that fits together exactly from beginning to end. I shivered with anticipation at the horses coming, and cringed with the arrival of the bluecoats. The story grows more powerful every time I hear it. Pure audial storytelling has faded like the Buffalo Horses, but with work like this as an example, maybe it will come back too.

[ by Sarah Meador ]
Rambles: 5 October 2002



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