On her first album in 13 years, folk icon and Native American activist Buffy Sainte-Marie comes out swinging. She takes on corporate greed over the furious tribal beat of “No No Keshagesh” and makes effective use of audio samples of pow-wows on both the blistering “Working for the Government” and the dance-floor-ready “Cho Cho Fire.” With those three cuts followed by a gorgeous, lilting reworking of her own “Little Wheel Spin and Spin,” Running for the Drum boasts a simply phenomenal opening sequence. Those songs speak to the depth of Sainte-Marie’s focused folk-singer outrage and her still-razor-sharp ear for a memorable pop hook. Unfortunately, she isn’t able to sustain the momentum or the sheer quality of that opening run, and songs like “Too Much Is Never Enough,” “Easy Like the Snow Falls Down,” and “When I Had You” recall the schmaltz and love-song clichés of Sainte-Marie’s Oscar-winning “Up Where We Belong.” But there are still moments of inspiration: The new lyrics she adds to “America the Beautiful” breathe new life into a public domain anthem, while her smoldering “Blue Sunday” pays tribute to the influence Elvis had on her early love of music. Even if Drum is a bit too frontloaded, the album hits more often than it misses, and it marks a welcome return for Sainte-Marie.
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