Review of “AKA Grafitti Man” – Rolling Stone

AKA GRAFITTI MAN, by Native American poet John Trudell, is a protest record, but not of the usual variety.

Trudell employs basic rock, blues, traditional indigenous music, street shuffles and folk songs to craft a compelling hybrid that encompasses many viewpoints and visions of reality. His politics call for expansiveness and evolution rather than revolution. The result is a moving, shape-shifting, rock & roll treatise on the state of the world.[audio:]

Listing Jackson Browne as executive producer, AKA Grafitti Man is a compilation of Trudell’s previously released cassette-only collaborations with the late guitarist Jesse Ed Davis and Mark Shark (a mean guitar slinger himself), first issued on Trudell’s own label during the Eighties.

The opening track, “Rockin the Res,” begins with a native chant; it sets the tone as Trudell invites us to “listen to the skies/Listen to the sound/Something on the land/Something going down/Down dressers/Speeding by life/Fever’s heart/Burning rivers to cross.” The band establishes a skeletal, rocking theme, and Davis carefully fills the space with blues.

The title cut follows, a funky strut in which Trudell delineates a materialist culture in moral ruin. Again, Davis cuts through the band’s steady groove, shaking his jagged guitar lines through the mix. From there the “songs” juxtapose current affairs with myths (“Baby Boom Ché,” about Elvis; “Wildfires”; “What He’d Done”) and politics with spiritual awareness (“Bombs Over Baghdad,” “Somebody’s Kid,” “Rich Man’s War”).

While it’s true that backing poetry with music has been previously – and often miserably – attempted by others, Trudell, with his Lou Reed-style delivery, pulls it off in spades. The difference? His musicians – Gary Ray and Chad Cromwell on drums; Quiltman providing chants and percussion; Bob Glaub and Rick Eckstein on bass; Browne, Steven Soles and Kris Kristofferson on backing vocals; and many others – are experienced in the art of understatement, and Trudell tells the truth simply, without artifice or undue drama.  In doing so, he provides a powerful and transformative listening experience – you can hear the pain and joy in his voice. 

AKA Grafitti Man will shake you up and make you dance; it challenges your commitment to justice, and above all else, it rocks. – Thom Jurek