Thursday, July 14, 2011

CD Review: Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn – Small Source of Comfort (True North CD, 2011)
Review written by Tom Wilmeth
July 2, 2011

Bruce Cockburn’s latest release could be called a “best of,” but this term is reserved for previously released material. Let’s instead call it a “culmination,” for on his new Small Source of Comfort CD Cockburn is able to assimilate all that has been good in his catalogue since 1971.

Politics have not left the singer’s oeuvre, but neither has Cockburn’s sense of humor. Simultaneously fearless, bizarre, and compelling -- “Call Me Rose” is a first person narrative by Richard Nixon reincarnated as a single mother-of-two living in the projects. Accepting this strange premise prepares the listener for other surprises.

Perhaps more unexpected than Nixon’s transformation is that of Cockburn himself as he reassess his own long held views concerning war. Having recently seen Canadian casualties at Camp Mirage in the Middle East, Cockburn sings “Each One Lost” with an attitude reflecting far more sorrow than anger. This, from a man who may be best known for his revenge-soaked “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.”

Cockburn’s love songs are still poignant and increasingly mature, which makes sense as the artist cruises past the 60-year mark. “Radiance” and “Boundless” both address physical love, but each also moves into different directions of spiritual and Jungian devotion.

Another form of love is found with “Lois on the Autobahn,” an instrumental work inspired by Cockburn’s late mother. Each of the CD’s five instrumentals serve as islands on which one can reflect on the album’s lyrics. Most were commissioned for, but not used in various film projects. I suspect that the reason a director would refrain from including these rich pieces is because none behave like background music. Each is strong enough on its own to compete with a film’s visual elements.

Small Source of Comfort closes with the brief ballad “Gifts,” used for years by Cockburn in concert as a final encore. The inclusion of this long withheld jewel makes it clear that the performer himself regards this CD to be a special release. Last year the government of Canada honored Bruce Cockburn’s career with a high profile concert broadcast from Toronto’s Massey Hall. This album demonstrates why such recognition is appropriate.

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