Native Americana: David Huckfelt Deconstructs the 'Cowboys and Indians' Mythos On Room Enough, Time Enough

As folk singer David Huckfelt neared completion on his second solo album in March 2020, the year's chaos was hardly hinted at—but change had already greeted him in the form of his newborn son. As if he needed additional inspiration (Huckfelt already had an extensive catalog with his folk rock band The Pines, and had previously served as Artist-In-Residence at Isle Royale National Park on Lake Superior), the year would lead to his new album Room Enough, Time Enough being his most spirited work to date.

Though Huckfelt lives in Minneapolis, he maintains a strong connection to the Tucson music scene. Most of Room Enough, Time Enough was initially recorded in early 2020 at Tucson's Dust & Stone Recording Studios with a large roster of local musicians: XIXA's Gabriel Sullivan, folk singer Billy Sedlmayr, Giant Sand founder Howe Gelb, blues player Tom Walbank and more. Huckfelt returned to Minneapolis as COVID hit, and he decided to flesh out the record by sending tracks to all the people he knew were stuck at home with recording gear.

"I think about records geographically, and what a special jewel Tucson is artistically speaking," Huckfelt said. "There's so many people I wanted to include. We kept building the table a little bit longer and the tent a little bit wider with each step of this record. It did snowball a little bit, but there was always this idea to have an outlandish posse of people on this record who are friends and acquaintances and strangers and cowboys and Natives all going down the road together."

A longtime advocate for marginalized voices within the Native American community, Huckfelt wanted to question the history and conventions of American folk music. As such, the album features a combination of original tracks and reworked Americana standards featuring musicians like South Dakota Indigenous singer Jackie Bird, Ojibwe guitarist Keith Secola and Warm Springs Nation Indigenous singer Quiltman. Then, this effort was further galvanized as George Floyd was killed less than a mile from Huckfelt's home.

"The plan was to open a collaborative experience, opposed to any limiting or thematic feeling," Huckfelt said. "Through everything, I was trying to blow up the mythology around cowboys and Indians, and to see if I could make a common-ground record after four years of extreme division in our country. It just seemed all the more important to take these old songs and rework them—how do we listen to each other when everyone is shouting?"

This style is present right from the optimistic opener "Better to See the Face," which sees Huckfelt balance natural imagery with romantic delivery. Though the song is built around a simple acoustic melody, the background drones wash the whole track in a lush warmth as Huckfelt sings, "There's a thousand ways to jump out from the front of a moving train / It's better to lose the wild card than to get rich with the tame / It's better to see the face than to hear the name."

Even the Americana classics like "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie" and "Cole Younger" are given new life with horn passages, a blend of electronic and acoustic instruments and multiple voices. What was once a dry and sparse scrubland now overflows with melody—all driven by Huckfelt's high, smooth voice.

“‘Bury Me Not’ has always been this glorification of the cowboy myth, but as I heard it and looked at some of the poetry in it, it’s also a song about respecting Mother Earth and how the land does cooperate with some of our greedy designs for it, and how it can leave us flat if we don’t change our ways,” Huckfelt said. “Historically speaking, Native music has always been part of American music. I think there’s places for new alliances in Americana, and I think it’s worth it to share the spotlight and highlight other voices. I think that kind of activism music lends itself well to.”

However, Huckfelt hesitates to call himself an “activist,” because he knows so many people who have devoted their lives to being on the frontlines. But in many ways, the music and album speak for itself. Even the music video for "Bury Me Not" reminds the viewer that all locations filmed are stolen Tohono O'odham land. But for as conscious as Room Enough, Time Enough is, the whole project comes off as compassionate rather than critical. Huckfelt says this decision was in reaction to all the anger present in the last four years. And at a certain point, “you don’t want to put any more anger into the atmosphere, you want to take it out.”

Although Room Enough, Time Enough was recorded in the nearly opposite states of Arizona and Minnesota, Huckfelt says there aren’t particularly desert or midwestern tracks.

“I was always looking for commonality,” Huckfelt said. “Minnesota and Arizona, while they appear to be such opposites, the indigenous presence in both states, the tribal histories, the interplay between Native cultures and settlers, there’s a thread there. There’s border wall protests in Arizona and pipeline protests in Minnesota. So to me, there was a lot in common. There’s a language in the opposites.”

Opposites are rarely as obvious as on the track "Ghost Dance," which begins with a wall of distortion giving way to Native American chanting and group vocals in multiple languages. Though the song features a mix of wild harmonicas, drums, guitars and reverb bouncing back and forth, it maintains a consistent rhythm that stops it from losing focus.

“They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I’m not sure that’s true. Innovation might be more sincere, because you take what someone contributes and you find a way to make something new,” Huckfelt said. “There are tropes that Native American artists get pushed into. People might say if there’s no flute or powwow drum, it’s not Native. And I find these artists want to break out of that just as much as we want to break out of Americana. Breaking genre conventions is the way forward.”

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