She had other photos that "are more like glamour shots," she said. But for reasons that may only become apparent when you listen to her beautiful new record, Annie Humphrey chose an album cover image that is far from glamorous.
"I'm way out in the bush eating wild rice that me and my family harvested without a fork," she said with a laugh.
"I look like a cavewoman, for God's sake."
The photo featured on the front of Humphrey's new record — taken on her 22 acres in the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota — represents many of the powerful and hopeful messages offered in the songs, which were born out of a time of mourning and lockdown.
The album is called "The Light in My Bones," and it solidifies the proud Anishinaabe singer's reputation as one of the most moving and meaningful songwriters in Minnesota. Its title is based on an Ojibwe word for wisdom, nibwaakaawin.
Many of the songs on the record are about where Humphrey herself has found her knowledge — from her father (who died during the LP's writing) to another late father figure, Native poet/songwriter John Trudell. And from the land she harvests to the Ojibwe traditions she follows to the aging process she has embraced.
"Is it okay if my hair is tangled up and getting gray?" Humphrey sings in "Is It Okay," one of the new standout tracks.
"Is it okay if I don't moisturize the wrinkles round my eyes? / Is it okay if I say I've never sinned? / Is it okay that I draw stories in my skin?"
After a string of concerts around the Upper Midwest over the past month, Humphrey will celebrate her new album's release in Minneapolis at the second annual Decolonizing Thanksgiving concert Friday at the Hook & Ladder. The show puts a Native American spin on the holiday and benefits First Nation Kitchen's food service.
"I'm all about 'decolonizing' in general," said Humphrey, who played the concert last year with fellow Ojibwe music hero Keith Secola (also returning).
"Decolonizing has to happen first in your head, thinking differently about where you come from. I think a better word to use is being 'nonconformist.'"
Also a proud former U.S. Marine who served four years in her early 20s — she said she joined "to avoid getting stuck" — the 57-year-old mother and grandmother is now making tender, emotional folk music that belies her rugged past.
She recorded the atmospheric and intimate-sounding new LP with some of Minnesota's finest indie-rock players, including co-producer and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker (the Suburbs, Alpha Consumer), bassist Liz Draper (Charlie Parr), drummer/keyboardist Sean Carey (Bon Iver), guitarist David Huckfelt and string players Jacqueline Ultan and Gaelynn Lea. Iranian American singer Aida Shahghasemi also delivers some stunning guest vocals on the aforementioned "Is It Okay" and a couple other songs.
The album opens with a recording of Trudell — co-founder of the American Indian Movement, cohort of Bob Dylan and Peter Gabriel — talking about protecting the Earth and resisting the government. Humphrey then cuts in and sings, "We are made of Earth, why do we think we're so powerless? / Accepting oppression for so long it's re-written all our songs?"
She channels Trudell's spirit in subsequent songs, too, including "Bad Dog Cried," which features vocals by Trudell-associated powwow singer Quiltman.
"I promise to hold on to the lines," she sings to her mentor. "I promise my mind won't be mined / And I'll think for myself and stop just believing."
Humphrey doesn't see her calls for resistance — which have also included environmental activism with Honor the Earth and other protests for Native American causes — as being antithetical to her U.S. military service.
"I wish more people would start realizing we, the people, are the power," she said. "We don't have to be confined under the system. A lot of people are afraid to question the system or the government, but I just never was."
She was brought up on the Leech Lake Reservation near Cass Lake by a poet and storyteller mother, Anne Dunn, and a country-music-singing father, Wally Humphrey. Her father's death in 2020 features heavily on the new album. He had Alzheimer's and had been living at Annie's home.
During the recording of "Is It Okay," Humphrey said she broke down and cried while singing the line, "Is it okay that I felt free when my father passed away?"
Talking by phone from the room where her father died, Humphrey explained, "He had been suffering for a long time, so there was a sense of relief along with the sadness.
"A lot of people my age are dealing with aging parents now, and it's really hard. There's a comfort when they finally are at peace."
She overtly honors her dad in another heart-tugging song, "New Snow," which references his October death (right after the first heavy snowfall) as well as rice harvesting and sugar tapping — chores he taught her. Her dad was also inspiration for the album's title track, since she believes he still lives in her bones.
"Wisdom is more than information, more than what you can read on a screen, more than a teacher can teach you," Humphrey said. "Wisdom lives inside you.
"That's what I took from my dad when he passed away: the wisdom he gave us all our lives. It still lives inside my bones — how he taught us to live, and how to interact with the natural world."
Decolonizing Thanksgiving 2.0
With: Annie Humphrey, Keith Secola, David Huckfelt, Jeremy Ylvisaker.
When: 7 p.m. Fri.
Where: The Hook & Ladder Theater, 3010 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: $25, thehookmpls.com.