Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Cockburn’

Ten Days Too Late

May 12, 2009

I’ve proven who I am so many times
The magnetic strip’s worn thin
And each time I was someone else
And every one was taken in
Powers chatter in high places
Stir up eddies in the dust of rage
Set me to pacing the cage

Bruce Cockburn

Pacing the Cage

Finally a new episode of the podcast is up today. In it I continue the discussion of Slice O Life by Bruce Cockburn and even play a song from the album.  I also talk about baseball and play a song by the very talented Andy Mckee. Expect to hear more of his work on upcoming episodes of the show. As always you can find the podcast on iTunes, here, or over there–>

Huge Orange Flying Boat

May 10, 2009

As the echoes of our passing fade all there is to say.

Bruce Cockburn

Time Me At The Crossroads

Welcome to Part III of my multi-part review of Bruce Cockburn’s Slice O Life.  You can read Part I and Part II by clicking. I also apologize for the lack of a podcast. I am having some issues elated to my account (no fault of libsyn) and can’t post anything right now. I will be back with them in the very new feature. I appreciate your patience.

This final section begins with a brief story about the pan handlers of Bruce’s current hometown, Kingston.

We’ve reached a portion of the set that contains three classics, beginning with the timeless Wondering Where The Lions Are. Since this is a solo show Bruce enlists his audience to echo the refrain.  I’ve said a lot about this song in a past post and my opinion remains unchanged.  It’s a song that I never grow tired of hearing.

If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear. If you are familiar with this song, then you know it is often more spoken than sung.  The history of the environental movement is a bit of a mystery to me, but I have to think that this song represnts what was once great fervor about saving the rainforests.  When’s the last time you saw a commercial abotu saving the rainforests?  It’s been awhile for me.

Celestial Horses contains one of the few problems on this CD. There is a noticeable buzz in the song, which is a bit distracting, but isn’t a huge issue.  The song itself is quite beautiful in this venue.  It actually reminds me of a few Paul Simon songs, like Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War.  Yet it is unmistakeably Bruce Cockburn.

Most artists who play music similar to Bruce would never get as angry as If I Had A Rocket Launcher.  Of course, it does happen from time to time, and when we remember that Bruce came up in the rabble rousing milieu that was the 1960’s.  In this format the song has the feel of a solitary voice yelling at the wall of meaningless violence.

Child of the Wind is a straight ahead folk song.  There is beauty in simplicity.  I could hear Joel Plaskett playing this song.  Bruce has been widely covered, perhaps most famously by The Barenaked Ladies, which is a testament to his influence and skillful songwriting.

The concert portion of the album wraps up with Tie Me At The Crossroads. It’s been a great ride.

The album has a bonus section of soundcheck material.  It’s interesting to listen to and to get a slice of backstage chatter. The three tracks each have something a little different to offer.  I actually sumbled across a fascinating debate about the legacy of Kit Carson after listening to the song again.

Overall I greatly enjoyed Slice O Life. Bruce Cockburn is such a talented musician that even when he is alone for two hours he can create a transcendent experience.  His voice has changed a bit over the years, which is not a bad thing, and his guitar playing remains exemplary.  Although this concert is a collection of songs spanning is career I think it’s worth commenting on the content of his compositions.The quality of his lyric writing is perhaps unsurpassed in Canadian music.  He merges spiritual, political, emotional, social, and natural themes and creates compositions that paint pictures and tell stories.  If you aren’t a Bruce Cockburn fan this album might convince you to change your mind. Particularly if you appreciate strong acoustic guitar playing and entertaining songs.  This is obviously a must for all Bruce Cockburn fans. Bruce Cockburn has a reputation for outstanding solo concerts, and this album does not disappoint.

We’ve Even Got A Bearded Folk Singer

May 9, 2009

Dark things drift across the screen.

Bruce Cockburn

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 MoreFold 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.

What Would I Do That Was Different?

May 8, 2009

Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime

Bruce Cockburn

Lovers In A Dangerous Time

With 46 seconds of applause we being our journey into Slice O Life, Bruce Cockburn’s live solo album.  I have been excited about this disc since I first heard about it, and now I own it.  This rather epic affair is the first commercial recording of Bruce playing on his own. He has previous live albums with his many bands, but has waited a long time to treat his fans to this special type of performance.  These performances come from the same tour as the CBC Radio 2 concert I previously reviewed.

The liner notes that these concert performances are presented mostly intact, with very little polish. I appreciate the honesty in that approach to a live album. Many groups overdub their mistakes in the studio, but any fan of live music knows that events rarely transpire free from error.  Bruce truly wants the fan to experience his live performance in its full existence.  I find it very genuine.

He opens with World of Wonders, which immediately reminds the listener that this is a transcendent talent.  I stand there dazzled with my heart aflame. There is so much going on in the instrumental bits of this song it’s hard to believe he is playing alone.

Lest we forget that Bruce has written some of the most timeless music of the last 30 years he treats us to Lovers in a Dangerous Time.  This song continues to move me many years after I first heard it.  In fact as I was listening to my iPod on the way to the store to buy this album, the original version of this song came on.  This live version is just as passionate and beautiful, perhaps more so.  I wonder what effect many years of laying and reflecting on these songs has had on Bruce’s experience.

The makers of this disc decided to include some between song chatter as individual tracks.  His story about almost becoming a mercenary was repeated on the CBC concert.  This is a much longer and more drawn out version of it and includes some banter with a talkative audience member.  It’s amazing that a man who became a recognized activist for improving the life of the poor and suffering actually considered getting involved in supporting armed rebellion. Although I might change my mind about that when we get to If I Had A Rocket Launcher.

The mercenary story leads to See You Tomorrow because the friend of a friend plays a role in the song.  There is something unique about playing a solo live show.  In a band setting the attention gets spread around from player to player based on the ebb and flow of songs.  When you play alone you are completely exposed to the attention of your audience. For some people I am sure this is a highly desirable situation.  I always felt quite naked when doing that, and preferred the safety of having a band.  Perhaps it is the result of my own feeling of musical inadequacy. I wonder how Bruce feels about it.

Last Night of the World is a song that helped launch me back into Bruce Cockburn after I had ignored him for awhile. For some reason this track just speaks to me.  The chorus of If this were the last night of the world/what would I do?/what would I do that was different/unless it was champagne with you speaks to the romantic apocalyptic in me.  This version isn’t as sweet as the album cut, but it has more meat.  The crowd reacts gratefully to Bruce’s emphasis on we all have to be pried loose.  I share the sentiment.

How I Spent My Fall Vacation starts with the sweetness of a Spanish interlude and settles into the usual beauty of a Bruce Cockburn composition. The lyrics in this song are very descriptive.  I don’t think Bruce has written an autobiography but perhaps he should.  Or maybe he should just write a book with stories from his imaginative, I’m not sure which would be more compelling.

I remember watching Bruce play at Live 8.  A lot of the crowd were quite sure what to make of this older gentleman and his fancy guitar work.  I was sitting at home absolutely riveted to a man I admired for his musical prowess and convictions.

On the back of the album there is a picture of four guitars lined up around a processor rack of some sort.  Yet for Tibetan Side of Town we are treated to a quick tuning.  This is another wordy track.  The guitar work is incredible as he solos his way through basically the entire song.

This concludes Part I of this review. Look for Parts II and III in the next couple of days.  Yes it’s that long! I will also be talking about Bruce on the podcast once it goes up.

Treasures Buried In The Earth

April 18, 2009

It’s another brilliant day here in Southern Ontario and I’ve decided to make a playlist in the great radition of muic lovers everywhere.  Of course this used to be a mixtape, then mix CD, but now it’s an iPod playlist.  Some criteria:

1) The list will be 17 songs long. This is because its April 17th as I’m writing the post, and I remember that most of my exam time mix CD’s were that long.

2) Only one song per band. With the sheer number of groups in my collection it’s only fair.

3) At least 50% Cancon because I’m a good citizen. Well I guess in this case it’ll be at least 53% because I’ll have to include 9 Candian songs out of 17.

4) Everything in my collection is eligible regardless of genre, time, nationality, or personal back story. 

Now the list:

Is this Love? – Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah

When I first heard this band I wasn’t sure what to think of them.  Their singing isn’t what would traditionally be considered high caliber. It’s a little different than most. Nevermind that though, the song is great.  It’s a perfect way to kick off a warm spring day.

Lovesong – The Cure

Many of my friends are into The Cure.  They are one of those bands that people just seem to instantly love when they hear them.  This song, as the title indicates, is a classic love song, though in a style not always associated with romantic overtones.  I am convinced that The Cure are a band that would fit seamlessly into today’s indie music scene if they were brand new.

I Must Belong Somewhere – Bright Eyes

I believe I mentioned this song in one of my snow shovelling conversations on the podcast.  It is equally suitable now.  The simplicity of the melody and message allow your mind to wrap around the intersting lyrics.  It feels like a song that’s lounging on the porch.

Throwing It All Away – Genesis

Speaking of songs that lounge about, this classic Genesis tune displays the conplexity of a dysfuntional relationship. As someone who’s been there this song is almost liberating.  The positive vibe of the music is contrasted by Phil’s obvious sadness.  He knows that this is it, but isn’t sure what to do.  The common arguments: Who will light the darkness? Who will hold your hand? Who will find you the answers when you don’t understand? But he brings it full circle with the classic: Late at night when you call my name the only sound you’ll hear, is the sound of your voice calling, calling after me.

Emily Carr – The Wheat Pool

The first Canadian band (remember I owe you at least 8 more) brings a beautiful tune.  It’s such an effortless song by a great emerging band.  It contains stories about life, regular old life.  Road tripping across the prairies demands this song. Watch out for their next album due out within the year I believe. 

Wondering Where The Lions Are – Bruce Cockburn

Want to take a stroll on a nice day?  This song should set your gait for you.  Bruce strikes me as the kind of person whose spent a lot of sunny days outside, soaking in the atmosphere.  Wondering Where The Lions Are is a Canadian classic.  I think the line some kinda ecstasy got a hold on me is a perfect fit for this list.

Up On Cripple CreekThe Band

I’m counting this as a Canadian track because of the Canadian content in the group.  The Band were leaders in popularizing very rootsy rock from the southern US.  This song, a bit of a tall tale about nearly perfect love, Up On Cripple Creek is ideal for working on your car, building a fence, or hosting a BBQ. It just makes everything seem a little more effortless.

Where There’s a Will There’s a Whale Bone – Islands

Yesterday I dragged out my hockey net and spent an hour taking shots.  As soon as this song came on my attempts became harder and more deliberate. If I was a professional baseball pitcher this would be my entrance music.  I don’t know why I failed to realize the potential of this song for motivation, but it’s now part of my pre-sports listening.  Hard to argue with a song that mentions whale bone repeatedly.

Lost! – Coldplay

Please note this is the alternative version and not the original album one.  This is another great motivating song.  The lyrics really tell the tale: Just because I’m losing doesn’t mean I’m lost.  It should probably be in a sports movie right at the point that the underdohas reached rock bottom and is working hard to get back up.  It’s a great metaphor for my basketball team (now 0-10) as we try to bounce back in the last third of the season.  Spring means rebirth, so does this song.

Middle of Nowhere – Hot Hot Heat

This B.C. based indie band has given the world a catchy song about taking off to nowhere.  To give you something to go on, when I go off, back to the middle of nowhere

Mother and Child Reunion – Paul Simon

Any hope of seeing an S & G song are dashed by this track.  I absolutely love the organ in this song.  Paul Simon has a way of creating a song that is so full and rich without overcomplicating it.  This song, with it’s kind of bizarre lyrics is just such a song.  I’m swaying back and forth at the thought of it.

Cause = Time – Broken Social Scene

Probably my favourite BSS song for it’s up tempo beat and cynical lyrics.  I think what makes the band so great is there willingness to just try new ideas and be a bit wild in their songwriting.  In the end though this song is just great for rolling down the street with the windows down.

Something On The Tragically Hip

With the NHL Playoffs on I might’ve picked a couple of other Hip tunes for this list, but this is the one I like most for the context.  It strikes a nice balance between a rocking beat and a laid back feeling.  Much like Up On Cripple Creek  this song is appropriate for a myriad of outdoor activities.

 I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty

Maybe my head is filled with a need to fight back, but I’m including another song with a strong message for the underdog. You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down.

My Old Self – Wide Mouth Mason

Some songs are just so nostalgic you can’t ever escape them.  Pretty much anything from the first WMM album is that way for me.  It doesn’t hurt that this song puts me in the mood to be outisde, dancing around, or both.  I’m up in the kitchen singing, momma’s out in the backyard, daddy’s downstairs digging a grave.

 The Needle Has Landed – Neko Case

Perhaps this song would be better suited to an evening under the stars, but I like it in this list.  I think I could eat ice cream while listening to Neko Case and it’d feel like heaven.

In Perfect Time – Jill Barber

We come to a fitting end with a song about loss and life.   This Jill Barber song is my favourite of her work.  I would blame feeling down on the weather if I had no other reason to be. Thankfully that sentence does not apply to me today. I’m off to enjoy the sun.

Here Comes The Helicopter

February 18, 2009

You’ve got to kick at the darkness’til it bleeds daylight.

Bruce Cockburn

Lovers In A Dangerous Time

Suns up, mhmm, looks ok, the world survives into another day, and I’m thinking ’bout eternity, some kind of ecstasy’s got a hold on me. This is one of those nights when a good song fills the air, and I rock back and forth on my couch.  Is there anything else quite like a musical compostion?  Sound can influence emotion in rich and significant ways.  Although at various points of history larger compositions have been very popular, symphonies and concept albums being ready examples, the song as a unit has generally been the preferred form of music for people through the generations.  I mention all this because my good friend Dave, who has often been mentioned on the blgo and podcast has launched a new site he calls, The Song Review. Basically he takes a song that he enjoys and dissects its musical and thematic content.  He has a great passion for music, and his site is the perfect outlet for that.

I have quoted so many Bruce Cockburn songs as a way of encouraging Dave to take some time and pick one of his songs to write about. I’d also recommend some Simon & Garfunkel, The Band, and of course The Alder Fork.

What’s That You Say?

December 22, 2008

Dave laying down a sweet solo

Dave laying down a sweet solo

Today’s image depicts my good friend Dave recording the solo at the end of NOTLD. Don’t forget to check out Dave’s photography blog for better pictures than this one.

I have often referred to the music of bands such as The Tragically Hip as cold arena music.  For me, music often creates visual images in my mind, which are associated with specific life experiences.  I’m not sure why I experience music this way, but it’s always been like that. I guess it is partly related to movies and television, because they create connections between music and activity.  I doubt our ancestors experienced music in the same way.

Why am I talking about this? Well one artist whose music has created a vast array of mental images for me is Mr. Bruce Cockburn. I’ve talked about him on here before and today I am again. Specifically, I want to mention the little snippet of a concert that appeared on the CBC Radio 2 Live Concert podcast back in March.  They took a few songs from a set he played out in Vancouver.  He kicks off the set with Last Night of the World, a song I dearly love.  Only could Bruce Cockburn make the end of the world seem like one last great romantic evening for the ages.  I can imagine him pulling out his guitar for a last tune as the cities burn to the ground.

Please bear in mind that I’ve listened to this concert around 15 times, so I’m familiar with each moment.  Before this concert I was unaware of Bruce’s great sense of humour.  He has some great stories to tell. I’d love to have him on the podcast to just chat about his 40+ years as a musician and social advocate.  Who knew someone offered him a chance to be a gun runner? I didn’t. This amazing story (I won’t totally spoil it for you) leads to a song that I had not heard before the podcast.  In typical fashion there is so much going on with the guitar that it blows your mind. I believe it was Jackson Browne who said he believed that Bruce Cockburn was the kind of musician who used all sorts of effects to create his complex sounds, and was amazed when he saw him alone with an acoustic guitar playing the same compositions.  It is the rare talent who can write beautiful songs that require large amounts of guitar playing talent and retain a strong vocal melody. When you also consider that his lyrics are poetic and prophetic, you can’t help but conisder Bruce Cockburn among the foremost musicians/composers of the last 40 years. See you tomorrow, see you tomorrow, see you tomorrow, see you tomorrow…

Don’t the hours grow shorter as the days go by, you never get to stop and open your eyes, one day your waiting for the sky to fall, and next your dazzled by the beauty of it all. Yesterday I mentioned my definition of the perfect love song, and this one fits the bill.  The guitar is beautiful, the melody is moving, and the lyrics are passionate.  Got to kick at the darkness til it bleeds daylight…an inspirational thought indeed.

Take some time right now to log into iTunes, search for CBC Radio 2, subcribe to the Live podcast, scroll down and download this concert.  There are two other high quality artists on this particular episode so you can listen to them too, but please at least scroll to the middle to hear Bruce.

Bruce graces us with an acoustic version of End of All Rivers that sounds as if it could feature three guitars. But it’s just him.  Amazing is really the only word for it.  The song itself does invoke images of rivers in the Canadian wilderness. For me at least.  I think because our country is so beautiful, music is easily inspired by it, and easily invokes it. I remember watching Bruce on the Live 8 concert. I think a lot of the crowd was a bit confused by who he was.  Such a shame!

Speaking of young people knowing his music, here is a song that predates me.  It is also an all time favourite of myself and many other people.  Wondering Where the Lions Are is a classic song, Canadian or otherwise.  Much like Chris Martin, Bruce invokes the crowds involvement.  and I’m thinking bout eternity, some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me. I’ll leave it to the Bruce Cockburn experts to explain this song. For now I’ll just say that if you don’t know this song you better get downloading, shopping, or doing whatever it takes to hear it. Stop missing out on a sonic adventure!

It’s well known that I love Bruce Cockburn’s music. Now it’s your chance to love it to. For free, thanks to the miracle that is the podcast. Go, enjoy, see ya tomorrow.

American Rock & Roll

December 6, 2008

The sun’s up, mhm, looks ok, the world survives into another day

Bruce Cockburn

Wondering Where The Lions Are

I’ve always been fond of Bruce Cockburn.  His music is beautiful, skillful, informative, and thoroughly Canadian. He is among the great folk heroes of our nation, and someday our grandchildren will enjoy his music as if it was their own.  I always thought that the message of his music is rooted in the idea of what could be.  Anyone can complain about how things are and point out the problems to others. But some first challenge themselves and others to envision the change, then go out and work on fixing it.  There is no glory in working on the ground, but there is joy.

Picking up on yesterday’s theme of imagination I want to share a story. About once a week I take the one hour drive from Guelph back to Hamilton down Highway 6.  This usually happens between 7-8 am.  On my most recent return trip (this morning) I was awestruck by the sun rising over the escarpment.  When you’ve lived in the same area most of your life, the landscape has to work harder to impress. It struck me that on such a cold day the sun could look so warm and inviting.  The ground had the early winter look, a little white, a little green, and a little black.  I pulled up slowly to Clappison’s Corners and looked around to see if anyone else noticed what I was seeing. At that time of the day most people are half asleep. But the girl in the car behind me was staring off towards the sky, just as I was, and I think she would agree with my sentiments.  Coming down the hill on Highway 6 is always breathtaking. Hamilton looks a lot better from above, when its vastness can be appreciated.  Being able to see the bay and the lake from that vantage point certainly helps the experience. I pictured myself at the end of a long journey (though in fact I’d traveled only 45 minutes) because I could imagine what it was like for the early visitors to the area. Like the man for whom Cootes’ Paradise is named. He was apparently here for only a short time but quite admired the area I was now looking at. Somehow knowing that history made it even more worthwhile.

I wanted to share a little bit of my regular routine and I’d love to hear how you experience the morning wherever you are.

In other news I am launching a new musical project. I will be writing all of the songs but I will need musicians to join me. I am particularly looking for vocalists. Email me at if you are interested.