I can’t truly review the new collection from Light in the Attic, a two-record set entitled Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology. Despite my best efforts, I can’t download the provided files containing the liner notes and credits, and without these it is impossible to share what needs to be shared in a review.
BUT…the downloads provide ample evidence that this is a worthy volume, one all fans of roots and folk music should consider. I’ll paste the release below, but want to share some of my impressions.
You’ll may have noticed the press material associated with this album—published elsewhere and easy to locate—that begins, How did you first experience the poetry, music, and film of Willie Dunn? It took some thinking, but I believe my first interaction with Dunn’s music came via Kashtin’s Innu album, and their cover of “Son of the Sun,” one of that terrific and groundbreaking, influential album’s most engaging songs. I also know I heard Dunn on the CBC once, but I only came to appreciate his music following my purchase of the Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985, also re-issued this month by Light in the Attic. From there I purchased his Metallic album, a recording that has raised questions with each riveting listen.
The Dunn anthology begins with his epic “The Ballad of Crowfoot,” a ten-minute examination of Indigenous experience on the Plains since contact. It is an amazing song, and the short film Dunn made contemporaneously is every bit the song’s equal. As with each of Dunn’s songs included, every word, each note matters and adds a texture, shade, or hue to the telling. Mi’kmaq, Dunn reveals an incredible connection to the experience of Plains Indigenous people via songs including “Crazy Horse,” “Métis Red River Song,” and other numbers. His expansive view shares stories from across Canada, including “Charlie,” a song that was among the first pieces than informed the wider community of the experience of Chanie Wenjack during the mid-60s, “The Pacific,” “Nova Scotia,” and “School Days.” His timeless “I Pity the Country” and devastating “O Canada!” are also included, as are the inspiring “Pontiac” and “17 Sonnet 33 and 55 – Friendship Dance.” Twenty-two songs in all, including Dunn’s version of “Son of the Sun.”
I so want the opaque red vinyl, online shop version of this collection, but alas—the budget doesn’t allow. I do encourage all who appreciate roots music to explore the music, voice, and songs of Willie Dunn, and this expansive anthology is a fine place to start.
From the press release:
Celebrated archival label Light In The Attic Records is humbled to announce the next chapter in their ongoing Native North America series, Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology,which highlights the songs, poetry, and stories of an artist as every bit essential as Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young, but without the industry backing required to become a mainstream pop culture household name. Though artistically and creatively a peer, Dunn was also a grassroots activist and direct-action radical with no interest in the showbiz game, yet whose art, poetry and awareness has continued to inspire, influence, and inform generations without widespread commercial acclaim.
Available to pre-order beginning today (2/10), Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology will be released on 2-LP gatefold vinyl and across all digital platforms on March 19th. This definitive set honors the trailblazing life and music of the late, great Willie Dunn. Remastered by GRAMMY®-nominated engineer, John Baldwin, the vinyl version is complemented by a 24-page newspaper insert, titled WILLIE DUNN NOTES, featuring extensively researched liner notes by GRAMMY®-nominated, Willie Dunn Anthology producer Kevin Howes (Voluntary In Nature), and includes insightful interviews with Dunn, his family, collaborators, and a long list of peers including Bob Robb, Jerry Saddleback Sr., Jeannette Corbiere Lavell (OC), and Métis rights leader Tony Belcourt (OC). Also included in the package are letters from the Dunn family, a poem by Alanis Obomsawin (OC), poetry transcriptions, rarely seen archival images, art contributions from Christi Belcourt and Alanna Edwards, and graphic design/typography by Chris Gergley (NNA series). Musically, The Willie Dunn Anthology contains songs previously commercially unavailable from the vaults of the National Film Board of Canada(NFB) and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), including the quintessential 1968 NFB recording of “The Ballad of Crowfoot,” plus a career spanning overview of Willie’s songbook. All songs and compositions are officially licensed and approved by the Dunn estate.
The 2-LP version ofThe Willie Dunn Anthology is available in three editions: Standard Edition (pressed on black wax), Online Color Edition (pressed on opaque red wax and available exclusively at LightInTheAttic.net), and Indie Retail Color Edition (pressed on translucent red wax and available exclusively at record stores).
More about Willie Dunn:
Along with Buffy Sainte-Marie, A. Paul Ortega, and Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Willie Dunn is the most important singer-songwriter to emerge from the Indigenous communities of Turtle Island in the turbulent 1960s. With a full, strong, and beautiful voice, Dunn honored personal heroes such as Crowfoot, Crazy Horse, and Louis Riel through song, as well as William Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, and T.S. Eliot, expressing the multiplicity of his deep-seated passions, interests, and understandings. Born in Montreal in 1941 to Mi’gmaq and English/Cornish parents, Dunn was his own man, connected to both the city and the land, a poet, troubadour, filmmaker, artist, environmentalist, and grassroots activist/direct action radical who strived to connect with his people and did just that, affecting generations of Indigenous artists and musicians to the present day and anyone else lucky enough to have heard him. Dunn’s first film, The Ballad of Crowfoot, produced for the National Film Board of Canada in 1968, utilized a selection of hand-picked photographs from the National Archives of Canada paired with a powerful song, colonialism from the Indigenous perspective, not to mention a celluloid “music video” offering well before their prominence in the 1980s, revolution from within the system. Crowfoot, emulated by the likes of notable US filmmaker Ken Burns and still screened in classrooms across Canada is simply unforgettable. In “Charlie,” Willie Dunn set the harrowing story of residential school genocide victim Chanie Wenjack to music, almost 50 years prior to The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie and his much-acclaimed Secret Path, but with little-to-no radio play or media support. This must change. Willie Dunn Anthology associate producer and son Lawrence Dunn said this to The Guardian newspaper about his father in 2017: “The longer he’s gone the louder his words get…” Anyone who has heard “I Pity the Country” will understand, a song as profound as any in existence. “It’s like the reason you are supposed to make music,” enthused Kurt Vile about the tune to MOJO magazine. Sideman, friend, and guitar picker Bob Robb puts his old pal into focus: “If you want to know who Willie Dunn was, listen to his songs.” And don’t forget to share. Unfortunately, Dunn passed on to the spirit world a year before the release of the GRAMMY®-nominated Native North America (Vol. 1), but his open support, encouragement, and blessing, made both of these projects possible. All we can do now is to help keep his music alive, a great responsibility that we don’t hold lightly. Thank you, Willie.