Hallelujah, people...Bruce is back. Had this one on advance order from the Amazonians and when it arrived the day before yesterday, I couldn't stop playing it. And I still can't. Those new to Bruce's music (and being of open, mature minds), as well as those of us who've been with him on his wonderfully unique joyride ever since 1970 will be taken in and held enthralled by this, his newest masterpiece. And WHAT a joyride this new CD is, my gentle snowflakes. Bruce previewed a few of the songs from LIFE SHORT CALL NOW on his American tour last fall ("Mystery," "Tell the Universe" and "This Is Baghdad"), which only served to whet our appetites for this new collection of gems in the wake of his breathtaking collection of instrumental pieces, SPEECHLESS.
When it comes to originality, bold experimentation, virtuoso guitar-picking, dulcet baritone vocals, and lyrics that embrace the entire spectrum of human experience, Bruce has many contemporaries but no equal. He is, quite simply, one of the most unique musical creations in existence...not perfect, but as close to it as an artiste verite' can be at our current stage of evolution. While you can put any of his CDs into your player, hear him sing and immediately recognize him, it can also be said that when he gives us a new recording, you can never genuinely know what to expect until the songs begin & are underway. LSCN is no exception. His most recent CD of vocal songs, YOU'VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING , was nothing short of astounding, as most Cockburn fanatics like me will attest. LSCN is anything BUT a repeat performance of that record, though...and it's sad that so many "musicians" these days choose to tread the same formulaic paths that garnered them their success in the first place, probably out of fear of rejection and consequent failure. Bruce does not subscribe to that school of thought; he follows in the same "many roads lead to one place" philosophy as other musical luminaries like David Bowie, Brian Eno, and fellow Canadians Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.
The CD was released only a few days ago and as such the full weight of the songs have yet to fully sink in, but my initial impression is there's not a bad one to be found. When I noticed in the liner notes that he was employing brass and a string section on some tracks, I have to admit that I cringed inwardly a little...a little part of me wondered--just wondered--if the now over-60 Bruce Cockburn might be leaning toward...sellout? (***collective gasp from all Cockburn fans***) I should have known that he would never do that. In fact, when hearing the string accompaniment on certain tracks, I was happily reminded of the true glory days of one Elton John, circa 1970-1972, when his songs were brightly, emotionally colored with the brilliant and heart-tugging orchestrations of the multi-talented Paul Buckmaster. So yeah...the strings work, folks, as do the horns. No worries.
Having had only a few days to pore over these fantastic new tracks, I can say this much with certainty: I DO believe LSCN will leave its indelible mark on Cockburn fans around the world. Here's what I can share with you at this early juncture: First of all, for those who loved SPEECHLESS, we're treated to 3 very glowing instrumental pieces here: "Peace March," a spirited, uptempo acoustic number with a freight-train shuffle beat that just makes you want to smile; "Jerusalem Poker," a slower-paced composition with a percussion backing reminiscent of the Genesis track "Mama," of all things (!), and the closing instrumental, "Nude Descending A Staircase," wherein Bruce's fondness for experimentation almost (but not quite) goes over the top. I don't want to spoil it for you guys--you need to hear this one for yourself--but let's just say that the song starts and closes with what sounds like an old AM radio dial being turned slowly, almost like some of the borrowed sound effects from Kraftwerk's RADIO ACTIVITY album. (Have I piqued your curiosity? I hope so!) Two others I must mention that stand out: The shortest track on the disc (2:57) is what I believe will be his newest single, "Different When It Comes to You." This is one of those songs that could win him a whole new legion of fans, in the same vein as radio-friendly tracks like "Wondering Where the Lions Are," "Lovers In a Dangerous Time," and "If A Tree Falls." Just delightful from start to finish. And for me, the best track on the disc: The unbelievably beautiful ballad "To Fit In My Heart." For this particular Bruce fan, I rank that song right up there with his most emotionally devastating tracks like "Man of a Thousand Faces/Spring Song," "Can I Go With You?," "Pangs Of Love," "You Get Bigger As You Go" and "The Strong One." Check it out and see if you don't agree. And lest you think Bruce has doffed his politically-outspoken cloak, look no further than "This Is Baghdad," "See You Tomorrow," and especially the in-your-face "Tell the Universe." It's quite obvious his recent visit to Iraq left impressions on him as haunting as his Central American experiences of the mid-1980's.
Bruce is currently on tour supporting LSCN, and of course yours truly here has his ticket to see him at Kansas City's Grand Emporium on August 20th. This will be my 3rd time seeing him since his 2003 YOU'VE NEVER SEEN EVERYTHING tour, and let me remind those of you who've not yet had the good fortune to see this fine gentleman onstage: You mustn't allow yourselves to pass up the opportunity of a lifetime. Bruce's concerts are legendary for their overall quality. They're like the world's finest buffets--you get your money's worth many times over and never leave "hungry." And this bears repeating, too: Bruce likes meeting his fans after the shows. After 36 years in the music business and a string of internationally-successful recordings, he still values the people who go to the time and expense of coming to see him perform. Would that ALL famous musicians felt that way.
So let's close with Bruce's own words, a salute to the new generation of true music lovers as well as us old baby-boomer hippies: "Come all you stumblers who believe love rules/Stand up and let it shine!" It seems to me that with each successive release, Bruce Cockburn shows his unflinching love for music and life in dangerous times, and LIFE SHORT CALL NOW is the biggest hug he's given us so far.
Postscript, August 14, 2006: OK, I need to speak up in defense of Bruce in the wake of some "criticisms" being levelled against this CD. I'm astounded at some of the vitriolic comments coming from people who claim to be long-time fans and yet seem to be astonishingly closed-minded in the same breath. While, as I've stated, I try to allow others the dignity of their own opinions, I'm compelled to make the following statements. Point: I'm not one who thinks everything Bruce has done is brilliant. There are CDs of his (which, out of respect for him, shall remain nameless) that I choose not to listen to much, because I feel they were recorded during times when his creative juices were running low. Virtually every recording artist in existence has gone through such phases. Point: "Beautiful Creatures" is one of the most beautiful songs Bruce has ever recorded, and his high singing during the chorus doesn't offend me in the least. While it was a bit of a shock hearing it for the first time, ultimately, it portrayed for me the very sound of the human race weeping at the untimely, unfair and unnecessary extinction of various species of life on our planet. That's right...WEEPING. And many more of us SHOULD be weeping--indeed, RAILING--over this kind of blind insanity. Point: To say "there are only 1 or 2 good songs" on this CD is utter nonsense, a comment that would never be made by anyone who lays claim to being a "long-time fan of Bruce Cockburn." Period. Point: To complain about Bruce putting instrumentals on this CD simply because SPEECHLESS was an instrumental release? Oh, please. I mean, if the instrumentals were CRAP, I could almost concede to that...but when, in all honesty, was the last time Bruce recorded an instrumental piece of junk? I love it when Bruce steps back from the mike and shows us his instrumental prowess, and "Nude Descending a Staircase" shows, to me, that Bruce not only decided to experiment a little, but to also have some tongue-in-cheek fun in the process. Point: To actually say, with a straight face, that these songs sound like rehashes of everything he's done before is shallow as all hell. Oh, REALLY? Well, then, let's take that whining to the next level and say the same things about, oh, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Yes, King Crimson, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, etc, etc, ETC. Bruce has not only his own sound, but also his own unique agenda for self-expression through his offerings to us: His righteous indignation and outright anger at the impending apocalypse staring us in the face in this F'd-up world, and on the other end of the spectrum, his continuing, unabashed belief in the power of the Divine One and the unspeakable beauty surrounding us in the midst of imminent chaos. Add to this his continuing yearning for real love to come into his life, a journey that many of us share with each other from day to day.
Finally: I must tip my hat in respect to our Canadian reviewer, O Dubhthaigh, for writing a concise and astoundingly thought-provoking review that I am humbled to be in the presence of. (I would be honored to hear from you and correspond with you.) I can only hope or dream of writing reviews of such depth and overall quality, and I have read many of his/her other reviews as well. All of you who have lambasted this CD would do well to read it thoroughly, and then sit back & think on it awhile. Then, give consideration to giving the disc some repeated listenings, and give second thought to what appear to me to be ill thought-out and knee-jerk reactions to it.