Blackfeet Nation poet-singer Jack Gladstone recently released his 15th album, and at least one of the songs on it took nearly 15 years to complete.
The song, “Remembering Private Charlo,” is about the short life but long history of Louis Charlo, a Marine from Montana who died during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. Charlo was part of the first American flag raising on Iwo Jima, Gladstone recounts, but his story begins back when Lewis and Clark first encountered Indians in the early 1800s.
“Remembering Private Charlo” began ruminating in Gladstone’s mind in 1997 after a visit with another WWII veteran who was also engaged in the first flag raising. The idea sat for another nine years, until in 2006 when Gladstone began work on the song in earnest.
The resulting epic is a 10-minute-long history lesson, beginning back in 1805 when Lewis and Clark first made their trek through what is now Montana. The song is deepened with various instruments, including a shakuhachi flute from Japan, and several cameos, one from a barking, retired Marine colonel and one from former-President Franklin Roosevelt.
“There is nothing like this that I’ve done,” Gladstone said, describing the song as the cornerstone of his new album, “Native Anthropology: Challenge, Choice and Promise in the 21st Century.”
Gladstone’s latest effort, released Aug. 1, follows his style of integrating traditional Blackfeet Nation stories with current events, as well as analyzing history through song and poetry.
Called Montana’s Blackfeet Troubadour, Gladstone is a mainstay for many in Montana. His powerful voice is recognizable to those familiar with his summer “Native America Speaks” series in Glacier National Park, which he has been performing for nearly three decades.
The works in “Native Anthropology” cover a broad range of subjects, from global warming to war to the love a man can feel for a strong cup of coffee. Throughout the album, Gladstone handily takes on the role of wordsmith, something he refers to as being the “matador of metaphor.”
“It is designed to inspire introspection,” Gladstone said. “I think this is a really critical time in human history.”
Several songs on the album deal with fossil fuels and the culture of consumption in America. Gladstone admits to often playing the trickster character in these songs, giving listeners a tongue-in-cheek performance.
In “Fossil Fuel Sinner,” Gladstone sings with a local gospel choir cobbled together for this track. The initial plan was to use a choir from Tennessee, but when that didn’t work out, they improvised.
“We ended up just doing a pick-up gospel choir in the studio and they sound great,” Gladstone said.
The resulting “Fossil Gospel Choir” consists of Denise Sterhan, Sandy Matheny, McKinley “Saxman” Cunningham, Craig Barton and Rob Quist.
Though the song is playful, Gladstone insists the subjects of over-consumption and global warming should not be taken lightly. The point is to start taking serious inventory of American lifestyle, he said.
“We do what we can do because this is our responsibility, not so much for ourselves but for the generations that depend upon our actions for their wellbeing,” Gladstone said.
The ballad, “Chapel of Sea,” written on a trip to Greece, also portrays the immense beauty of the earth, Gladstone said.
“It’s the most gorgeous ballad I’ve written,” Gladstone said.
To help bolster the album’s musical achievements, Gladstone enlisted the help of multiple industry heavyweights. It was produced and arranged by Gladstone, Phillip Aaberg and David Griffith, as well as Michael Atherton.
Gladstone also brought R. Carlos Nakai on board to play the native flutes and Will Clipman to play native drums and percussion. Both are at the top of their profession, Gladstone said.
Also featured on the album are the Glacier High School “Echoes” Choir and the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School Honors Choir from Helena.
While discussing “Remembering Private Charlo,” Gladstone emphasizes the unique connection between the United States and the American Indian nations. He tries to take on the role of cultural bridge-builder with this and other songs, he said.
“The moral of the story is that we have separate identities in this country, but we also have a common identity,” Gladstone said.
For more information on Jack Gladstone and a list of concert times in Glacier National Park, visit www.jackgladstone.com.
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