The promotional sticker slapped on the jewel case for the Mirabal CD advertises it as an "Alter-Native album." This pun cleverly summarizes the artistic strategy of a Native American who holds onto his tribal roots even as he embraces modern rock. Robert Mirabal (who uses only his last name on stage) still lives in the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, where he grew up listening to traditional American Indian music around the house and rock & roll on the radio. He got his start in music playing flute instrumentals in new age arrangements in the style of R. Carlos Nakai and Bill Miller, but on Mirabal
he fuses the two musics of his youth. Helping him do it is producer Michael Wanchic (John Mellencamp's former guitarist), Kenny Aronoff (Mellencamp's ex-drummer), and Mark Andes (former bassist for Spirit). They take the Tiwa
rhythms of Mirabal's ethnic background and pump them up with emphatic backbeats and bluesy guitar riffs. Over these rumbling beats, Mirabal adds his fluttering, breathy flute solos and his vocals, both spoken recitations and sung melodies.
The results inevitably recall John Trudell, another American Indian who fused tribal themes and rock & roll with striking effect, but Mirabal is less political and more personal than his predecessor. When Mirabal sings in the voice of a "Medicine Man," for example, he laments that he can "razzle dazzle ghosts," but "can't manage your love for me." On "Sundance Love," he turns a nature hymn into an erotic ballad. The album's centerpiece is a marvelously detailed 10-minute narrative about "Tony & Allison," a pair of young Navajos who go on a crime spree across the Southwest; it ends with Allison wondering how she drifted so far from the tribal virtues of her childhood and how she can get back there. --Geoffrey Himes