While trying to explain the unique calling behind his earthy and expansive new album, David Huckfelt pointed to a literal call he got in 2015 from one of his music heroes before a Duluth performance with his old band the Pines.
The caller was none other than Keith Secola, singer-songwriter from the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa of northern Minnesota and originator of the 1992 American Indian rock staple "NDN Kars."
"He said to me, 'David, I think you need to have more Natives in your music,' " Huckfelt recalled.
Not only did Secola wind up playing at that Pines gig, six years later he also played a lead role in shaping his Iowa-reared, Minneapolis-based friend's new record.
Titled "Room Enough, Time Enough" and due out Feb. 26 — with a virtual release party Saturday from Tucson, Ariz. — Huckfelt's second solo album shows a heavy imprint from Secola and other Native musicians, writers and activists who've crossed trails with the former Pines singer over the past decade.
There are songs written by, inspired by or sung with Native Americans on the album, all naturally in step with the airy, land-swept twang-rock sound, folk music traditions and environmental bent that have long been Huckfelt's trademark.
Among those tracks are one written by and another with Secola, who now counts the former Pines singer as an ally of Native art and activism.
"Rather than claiming to be an expert on Native music, David surrounds himself with expert Native musicians," Secola said.
"He asked for permission, asked for advice and took it. He didn't distort, obliterate or over-romanticize. And he gives full credit."
Secola expects the record to bring new exposure to other Native participants such as Warm Springs Nation singer Quiltman, who guests on three tunes, including a cover of Patti Smith's "Ghost Dance"; and to late South Dakota Lakota hero Buddy Red Bow, whose spiritual song "Journey to the Spirit World" fits in beautifully.
Secola's own song "Book of Life" is a centerpiece of the album. Among its laundry list of wonderment are the lines, "Who do I run to? What do I stand for? Who should I play for? What should I pay for? What makes it all seem worthwhile?"
World turned on end
Those are questions Huckfelt has been asking a lot since he began making this record last winter in Tucson (near where his mom lives, and where he's wintering again this year).
Among the other music vets he worked with there were desert-rock pioneer Howe Gelb of Giant Sand, Calexico pedal-steel player Connor Gallagher, onetime Dylan drummer Winston Watson and singer-songwriters Billy Sedlmayr and Jackie Bird.
"It's a really special music scene down here," Huckfelt said, calling from Arizona. "They're living on the edge of the country with such an interesting mix of worlds."
He brought the Tucson recordings home to finish and refine last spring with an all-star cast of his Minnesota and Iowa cronies such as Greg Brown (who helped sing the Johnny Cash staple "A Satisfied Mind"), Pieta Brown, JT Bates, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Erik Koskinen and Trampled by Turtles' Dave Simonett and Ryan Young.
Upon his return to Minneapolis, though, Huckfelt's world was turned on end, like everyone else's. Not only did the pandemic happen and then the racial tumult around George Floyd's death, he also saw his first child born in March, a ridiculously chill boy named Billy.
"I've never been pulled in two directions so widely," he said.
"We had this beautiful baby, but then we couldn't share him with the world or even his grandparents because of the pandemic. And then [during the spring riots] I'm watching out the window of our house for trucks without license plates while I have this baby in a crib."
He said finishing the record became his way of "staying connected and trying to create beauty in the world."
Much as he did with his previous solo album, 2018's "Stranger Angels" — largely written as an artist-in-residence at Isle Royale National Park — he found solace in creating "room enough, time enough" for his art. That phrase, which became the album's title, comes from a Navajo saying about the sprawling Monument Valley landscape in Utah.
"I don't know anybody who feels like they have enough room or enough time in their lives these days," he said. "It's an idea, a feeling to aspire to: finding the kind of space that your spirit needs to stretch out."
Huckfelt has long studied Native history and became an active participant on trips to the Pine Ridge Reservation with late American Indian Movement leader and musician John Trudell. He has since participated in many powwows and other Native dances and events, and he has worked with environmental activist Winona LaDuke, including a Stop Line 3 protest last year that earned him press in the New Yorker.
Summing up how all those experiences shaped this record and his general outlook over the past year, Huckfelt said, "I've learned a lot just from listening.
"In my mind, we're guests on this continent. We should do a lot more listening than talking. Where some of these Native songs and ideas come from, they've been enduring crises for 400 years. Indigenous people are telling us we can take heart if we protect the land, and the people and things that are most vulnerable."
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658