In 1964, the late Johnny Cash released an album called Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian. It was one of country music's first concept records, and one of the most powerful political statements of its time, exposing the shameful manner in which the United States had treated Native Americans. Forty-one years later, Marty Stuart revisits the concept and the politics on Badlands, and sadly, little has changed.
Cash (who was Stuart's father-in-law and mentor) described the broader implications of the social dilemma from the Native American's point of view. Stuart takes a similar stance, but focuses on the Oglala Sioux tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation of North Dakota (one of the poorest counties in the U.S.). Mixing Native American accompaniment on spoken word pieces with stellar playing by the Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart delivers a strong but heartbreaking message that describes the plight of the Oglala in stark and painful terms.
But what really stands out is the intense pride of the Oglala, and the love and respect Stuart holds for the tribe. He honors them in "Wounded Knee" and the title track, and points out the shallowness of the government's "goodwill" gestures in "Broken Promise Land."
While most country music fans would rather sing and laugh to racist drivel like Tim McGraw's offensive "Indian Outlaw," the notion that Stuart's work will probably be ignored by radio is a disgrace. Just like the treatment of the Native Americans.