As the first power chord jolts you out of your seat, you find yourself thinking, this sure ain’t no powwow music. Sacred Stage, by James Bilagody and the Cremains (Canyon Records), is a fusion the likes of which the elders never dreamed. It’s got Native American tradition to be sure, plenty of it, but its two-ton guitars and crashing drums leave no doubt that this is a rock recording first. When Bilagody opens his mouth on “Compass Rose,” the wailing that emerges is more Jello Biafra than Floyd Westerman.
Native/rock crossovers are nothing new, to be sure: the ’70s band Redbone scored a huge mainstream hit with their “Come And Get Your Love” and the Band’s Robbie Robertson has explored his Mohawk lineage on disc. But rarely does the synthesis work as convincingly, or as powerfully, as it does here.
Bilagody’s early exposure to both traditional Diné (Navajo) music and the primal rock and roll of Elvis Presley affected him equally. Although he started his career in the music business as a country radio disc jockey in Utah and Arizona, the drive to make his own music won out. He performed country himself for a while, before contributing to albums by Douglas Spotted Eagle, Little Wolf and Brulé, as well as Robertson’s Contact From The Underworld Of Redboy in 1998. Bilagody released two previous albums under his own name: Beauty Ways in 1992 and Sing For Me in 1999, the latter of which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Native American Music Album.
That Bilagody and the four-piece Cremains should come together was providence. The group, from rural Arizona, blasted onto the scene in 1997 with its first independent CD, titled Hate You. A three-song EP followed in 2000. The Sunnyside Newspaper gave them “Native American Rock Band of the Year” honors in 1999 and New Times included them in its 2001 “Best of Phoenix” issue. Citing non-nonsense bands like the Ramones, Led Zeppelin, the Strokes and Black Sabbath as influences, the Cremains provide the muscle to James Bilagody’s poetic heart. “My children, you will remember me with these songs,” Bilagody writes in his liner notes, commenting on the track “Sing Remember Me.” He has nothing to worry about—they will remember.