Dark things drift across the screen.
Put It In Your Heart
Welcome to Part II of my review of Bruce Cockburn’s new live album, Slice O Life. Part I is here, and Part III will arrive tomorrow.
My friend Dave sent me a tab for Pacing the Cage and said “this looks pretty easy.” Certainly in the context of Bruce’s other compositions this one is simpler. yet it is as beautiful as any of his songs. I’ve proven who I am so many times, the magnetic strips worn thin. I marvel at his ability to capture narrative in these songs. It is very difficult to write a compelling song that tells an authentic story. Bruce manages to encaspulates bits of his life into entertaining and memorable songs without sounding contrived.
Before we get into the instrumental The End of All Rivers, Bruce talks about playing a fraternity hayride in 1960’s Boston. He was, and still is, the bearded folksinger. I first heard The End of All Rivers in that CBC Radio 2 podcast. With remarkable skill Bruce has infused this piece with the sense of being on a river. The melody moves like a current through the song. This is a song that deserves silent and awestruck appreciation.
Soul of a Man starts out with a bluesy solo before becoming even more bluesy. This is no surprise since it’s a Blind Willie Johnson song. The blues have stood the test of time despite representing a fairly narrow range of possibilities. Now perhaps that is true of all music genres, but as this track demonstrates, a blues song from 80 years ago remains fresh in the hands of a skilled musician. The same might not be said about other songs.
Bruce ventures into flamenco-esque territory with the beginning of Wait No More. Fold me into you, you know were I’m dying to be. This is an appropriate choice after the previous songs, as we are treated to another blues-infused piece. The solo features some spanish flavour, but would also fit into a psychedelic song. Wait No More is a sonic trip.
One of the best features of this album is that these performances are so different from the album versions. Many bands give more or less a carbon copy of their music when playing live, which is fine if you are in the audience, but not so special on an album.
Bruce tries out a brand new song, apparently for the first time in front of an audience. It’s a very slow tune called The City Is Hungry. It is reminiscent of Robbie Robertson in some ways. It’s likely this song will change quite a bit before it arrives on an album, if it does at all. Live albums are rife with songs that later disappeared altogether. That is one of the best feature of many live discs. This one definitely has the feel of a work in progress, as Bruce wanders a bit around the fretboard. New songs are often a bit directionless at first.
We’ve reached the final song for today, Put It In Your Heart. The pace has picked up and the crowd reacts appreciatively. With the cut and paste nature of this album it’s hard to know which songs go together, so it’s possible this song isn’t a change of tempo for this audience. It is for us though. I suggest listening very carefully to the guitar in any Bruce Cockburn song. At first you might think you can hear everything, but on closer inspection you will notice things happening that didn’t seem to be there before. He often includes momentary inflections and intentionally stray notes. Put It In Your Heart is a deeply passionate song.
Look for Part III tomorrow as we roll through a bunch of the classics, hear a bit of his sound check and I give my final analysis.