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Jeremy Dutcher, 'Ancestors Too Young'

When Jeremy Dutcher pushes his prodigious voice to the extreme in the line "Where do they go?" he's singing about the youth suicide crisis within Indigenous communities across Canada. Hence the title, "Ancestors Too Young." It's a new single released from Motewolonuwok, the upcoming album by the classically trained tenor, composer, pianist, activist and scholar from the Tobique First Nation on Canada's east coast.

Dutcher's 2018 album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa was a runaway critical success, which earned him Canada's Polaris Music Prize, an annual award given to the best Canadian album regardless of genre. There, Dutcher honored his ancestors by singing in Wolastoqey, an endangered language which less than 100 people are fluent in from birth. The new album, while still acknowledging the ancestral song traditions, finds Dutcher singing in English. Understanding the words opens another window into his robust, expressive phrasing, supported by a handsome, tightly wound vibrato.

"Ancestors Too Young" is an urgent rocker, sung from the perspective of a parent devastated by the loss of a daughter. Amid guitar squalls and jittery brushes on the drum kit, tastefully arranged strings by Owen Pallett offer touches of solemnity. Near the end, Dutcher asks: "And if I go too, will I see the ones we've lost? / Life is over before it's begun / Ancestors too young." A primal scream from a trumpet signals a plea for the pain to stop before the music settles down and we can all take a breath.

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Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.