(4 / 5)
The latest chapter in the musical evolution of guitarist and vocalist Mato Nanji is an excellent example of the US blues rock band Indigenous’s time tested and powerful sound. Mato Nanji, longtime front man of Native American band Indigenous, is some player.
The soulful side of not only his guitar playing, but also his vocals, is very much tapped into here. A dozen cuts, on Mato’s 11th commercial outing. Influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana, Mato Nanji’s style and skill has drawn comparisons to each of these guitarists.
After delivering Indigenous’ last three CDs and the much lauded “3 Skulls and The Truth” – where he shared guitar and vocal duties with Los Lobos frontman David Hidalgo and North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson – Gray Skies is the next step in Mato’s climb up the career ladder of his chosen profession.
Mato Nanji’s personal mission is to improve his craft with each record. He is joined by band mates Dan Conway on drums, Kevin Vecchione on bass and Tommy Paris on keyboards and backing vocals. Mato pens all the songs; on his own are as co-writes with Leah Williamson, Mike Varney or both. Varney and Naji take on producer duties.
Indigenous came to prominence in the late 1990s. Two brothers, Mato Nanji (Maiari) (‘mah-TOE non-GEE’ vocals and guitar) Pte (‘peh-TAY’ bass guitar), and their sister, Wanbdi (‘wan-ba-DEE’ drums, vocals), with their cousin, Horse on percussion. The band has shared the stage with the likes of B.B. King, Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Jackson Browne amd the Dave Matthews Band.
The Nakota Nation members grew up on South Dakota’s Yankton Indian Reservation, where their father, Greg Zephier became a spokesperson for Native American rights. A musician in his own right during the 1960s and 1970s, he taught his kids to play their respective instruments. The family started touring together, and soon the children were performing on their own.
The group released their debut album, “Things We Do” on Pachyderm Records in 1998. In 1999, Indigenous won three Native American Music Awards for their debut record, including Album of the Year and Group of the Year.
The track “Now That You’re Gone” peaked at #22 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, making Indigenous one of the first Native American bands to break into that realm. B.B. King became a self-proclaimed fan, and invited the band to join his Blues Festival Tour. After recording their 2006 album, Chasing the Sun (Vanguard) the band split. Mato carried on with the Indigenous name and toured with a new line-up.
Mato may well admit to being influenced by several legendary guitarists, and he may often be compared to those icons too. But he’s his own man for sure. An assured and confident offering; and a breath of fresh air in the current, (in my view,) stale blues rock arena. A very decent album well worth checking out, if you don’t know this guy or this band. If you do, these are words that will be coming at you a bit too late, methinks.
By Christopher Weston
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’