Mary Youngblood,
Feed the Fire
(Silver Wave, 2004)

Mary Youngblood follows her Grammy Award-winning album Beneath the Raven Moon with the excellent Feed the Fire. Clearly, Mary is still exploring her unique voice and vision, and it's been a pretty interesting journey so far.

Youngblood is a brilliant musician with a captivating voice and a modest approach to her mighty talent. She lets the music shape itself, refusing, as so many singers often do, to drive it with her ego. Rather than take center stage, Youngblood lets her vocals and finely tuned flute and piano work in harmony to create a gently compelling tour de force of musical styles. Featured artists are Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Bill Miller and Joanne Shenandoah. This time around Youngblood explores alto flute and piano work in this captivating and unique work.

The opening track, "On My Way," features Mary's distinctive flute work overlaying some fine acoustic work by Tom Wasinger. It's a cheerful introduction to some of the introspective but essentially light-hearted work that follows it. Youngblood's smooth, Karen Carpenter-like vocals make the title track, "Feed the Fire," like a gentle walk down a favorite country road: full of sentiment and hope, it touches on the themes of journeying and self-discovery that informs Youngblood's work.

"Sacred Place" is a soft instrumental that nicely displays Youngblood's deceptively precise skills with the flute, while "Far From Home" is a moody piece that combines a beautiful piano and-flute-ensemble in what could almost be a classical musical chamber recital.

"Passions to Ignite" finds Youngblood chanting a traditional song to a quiet, strong drumbeat. Its companion piece, "Dreams to Find," combines traditional flute music and easygoing, folksy acoustic work in combination with a jazzy sort of flute melody. It's a unique and ear-catching combination and excellently showcases Youngblood's talent for combining styles in unique ways.

"Long, Long Road" is a sentimental look back over the unfolding years, but not overwhelmingly so; there is more redemption than regret in Youngblood's warm, inviting vocals, more gratitude than sadness in the rather haunting flute and piano work that unwinds with deceptive gentleness.

"Heart's Desire" uses a traditional chant with a powerful underlying, almost rock percussion and more excellent flute work. The result is a very moving piece of work, with an excellent follow up companion piece in "Destiny," a haunting flute instrumental that's so compelling it could be used for meditation. It hardly seems as long as five minutes, but that's the magic of Youngblood's flute: it can make you float away to wherever it wants to take you, esp. on the following song, "Search for Warmth," which has a simple but precise guitar accompaniment.

"On This Journey" is a neat duality of rock and traditional flute, a hybrid made magical under Youngblood's skillful direction. The closing song, "She Watches Them Play," lives up to its promise as a playful flute exchanges trilling notes with an equally playful drumbeat.

Youngblood is truly one of Native American music's best multi-platform artists. She was Native American Flute Artist of the Year in 1999 and has won two "Nammys," Native American Music Awards. Her ability to combine several seemingly different styles into one flowing melody is among the best I have ever heard: great chanting with underlying, continuous percussion, overlayered by jazz melodies and rock instrumentals. For Youngblood, life is about journeying to the center of what your heart most desires in this world. The result is what the French might call "cardiograph," words and music that seem as though the heart was doing the writing. An outstanding effort that is worthy of its Grammy nomination.

- Rambles
written by Mary Harvey
published 29 January 2005

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