By Eleni P. Austin

Adrian Sutherland has just released his second solo album. But it feels as though his music has been around forever. Growing up in Attawapiskat, First Nation on James Bay, Ontario Canada, he took his musical cues from Tom Petty, The Tragically Hip, Coldplay, Bryan Adams, and Neil Young, but also drew inspiration from his life, his surroundings and his Cree culture. An early influence was Kashtin, a Folk-Rock duo from Quebec who sang in their native language, Innu-aimun.

He made his mark as founder and frontman of the all-Cree rock band Midnight Shine. Together for a decade, they released three well-received albums, before Adrian, armed only with his trusty Gibson Hummingbird, embarked on a solo career. His debut, When The Magic Hits, arrived in 2021 and received a Juno nomination for Contemporary Indigenous Artist Of The Year. Now he has returned with his sophomore effort, Precious Diamonds.

Much like his musical heroes, Kashtin, Adrian always hoped to write music in his native language. That ambition comes to fruition on two tracks, the opener, “Notawe (Father)” and “Kiyash (Before).” The former is plaintive and poignant, the latter echoes the grit and gravitas of early U2.


The record truly kicks into gear with “My Rebel Spirit.” A mid-tempo Roadhouse Rocker, it’s powered by scrappy guitars, sinewy bass, smoky harmonica and a chugging, shuffle rhythm. Adrian wraps his flinty tenor around defiant lyrics that feels like a declaration of independence: “My rebel spirit don’t feel like there’s no place for me here, I’d rather be lonely, then something phony.” Splayed guitars sting and stutter on the break, bookended by wily harmonica notes.

Adrian’s music is all over the map on this record, and that’s a good thing. Take “Feelings Of Love” which weds a sly and Souful Doo-Wop flavored melody to heart-on-sleeve lyrics that advocate for kindness: “We’ve been searching high and low now, we’ve been living under rocks, the answer’s right in front of us, we have to learn to open up, we have to give it a shot/We got to run to the feeling of love, run to the feeling of love.”

Then there’s the spectral Ghost Dance of “Boogeyman.” Searing Resonator riffs lattice wistful keys, tensile bass and a burly backbeat. The song’s jaunty melody nearly camouflages vivid lyrical imagery that renders the political personal: “They tried to break my soul, they came and cut my tongue, I couldn’t run away, my body paralyzed.” The ancestral pain of enslavement, genocide and broken promises are wounds that scab, but never fully heal: “They’re gonna come and try to steal my ways, they’re gonna come and try to cut my braids, they’re gonna try to hide all those graves like the old man used to say/Watch out the boogeyman is coming, he’s dressed in black, you can’t hide from an evil holy man, standing at your bed.”

Finally, there’s the loping “Diamonds.” Shimmery guitars, loose-limbed bass and thready keys are tethered to a cantering gait. Perspicacious lyrics navigate the peaks and valleys that accompany life: “Overcome with paranoia, take a shot and they’ll sink it for ya, now, now, here today and gone tomorrow, wash it down with a glass of sorrow, why…why.” A bottle-neck guitar solo washes over the break with courtly, Spanish flourishes. The carpe diem chorus urges us to seize the day: “Hey everybody chill for a minute now, hey everybody stop and look around, we’re like diamonds, diamonds, diamonds made from the sun.”

Other interesting tracks include the rich narratives on “The Storm” and “You Are Left Behind.” Both numbers manage to feel simultaneously intimate and cinematic. The record closes with the potent diptych of “Let It Shine” and “Precious.” “Let It Shine” is an easygoing charmer, anchored by filigreed guitars, plaintive harmonica, sepia-toned bass and a tick-tock beat. Lyrics look to the Great Spirit to chart a course: “Moving through the waters like a sailor I show no fear, trying to survive these unforgiving times, I know they are near, look around you, scared faces I see, cause there’s all sorts of souls lost on the weenebaygo/We were on the cusp of something good, looking to the stars to find our way, leave it to the Gitchimunido, you can hear them say let it shine, let it, let it shine.”

“Precious” is something of a low-slung War Cry. Gritty guitars are matched by vroom-y keys, roiling bass and a scattershot beat. Trace amounts of tribal Gospel are salted into the lyrical call-and-response: “Bless these bones, they’re fighting for freedom, hey-hey-hey-hey-hey, bless these spirits saving our kingdom, hey-hey-hey-hey-hey, keep me from the gallows, safe passage for my mother, hey-hey-hey-hey-hey, when the war is won, bury me next to my father, hey-hey-hey-hey-hey.” It’s a compelling finish to a great record.

This is a solo album in name only. While Adrian handled vocals, keys, and acoustic guitar, he relied on a wolfpack of players like Janice Powers on Hammond B3 organ, John Dymond on bass, Jerry Roe and Gary Craig on drums and percussion, Jeff Taylor on accordion and dulceola and Jim Hoke on saxophone. Brandon Robert Young added harmonies. Mickey Rapheal, probably best known from Willie Nelson’s band provided some signature harmonica runs. MVP status belongs to producer Colin Linden who contributed acoustic, electric, 12-string and resonator guitars, plus dobro, bass, vocals and harmonies.

Following in the footsteps of Indigenous progenitors like Buffy St. Marie, Robbie Robertson, Jesse Ed Davis and John Trudell, Adrian Sutherland manages to honor his traditions and heritage and still make great Rock & Roll.