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Bruce Cockburn : Life Short Call Now - True North / Universal

5 August 2006, by Wilfred Langmaid -

With his 29th album in a 4-decade career, Canadian legend Bruce Cockburn delivers just what one would expect.

That means a message-filled soul mirror filled with songs that are evidence of his poetís grace and prophetís voice. It also means having these songs delivered with his sonorous baritone and carried in rich melodies that are vehicles for his skills as a guitar virtuoso.

The album sees Cockburn reunited with Jonathan Goldsmith, the producer behind his 1984 tour de force Stealing Fire. As such, many long-time fans expected this new album to be a rocking diatribe against western cultural imperialism and American warmongering.

It is, but Life Short Call Now is different from the mid-80s Central American trilogy of albums The Trouble With Normal, Stealing Fire, and World Of Wonders. This album has more of a world-weary sense of resignation by times, but it often displays a more tender tone as well. Cockburn sticks to an acoustic guitar more often than not, and many of the pieces include a 27-piece string and horn section.

Lyrically, the reference point of much of the album is what some would call the war on terror and what others would call the invasion of Iraq. As he has done for a quarter century, Cockburn entered into the belly of the beast of war to get a strong sense of the reality of the situation before writing his songs.

Clear reference points to Cockburnís disdain of George W. Bush include the travelogue This Is Baghdad, which begins with the lines, "Everything's broken in the birthplace of law / As Generation Two tries on his tragic flaw / America's might under desert sun".

Tell The Universe is even more direct. Here, he sadly intones, "Tell the universe where you've been / With your bloodstained shoes and your dunce's grin / Got to identify next of kin."

Most of the albumís melodies have an elegiac beauty, but there are a few groovers in the bunch. The talking blues piece Slow Down Fast sees Cockburn in the scat, half-spoken mode that he sometimes inhabits. Meanwhile, the lead single Different When It Comes To You is the sort of mid-tempo toggle that is always Cockburnís best shot at a hit.

Last yearís Speechless highlighted instrumentals that have been breaths of air on heavy Cockburn discs for years. This album has 3 instrumentals. Most notable are the Pat Metheny-like Jerusalem Poker and the album-closing Nude Descending A Staircase.

The album has a couple of nice surprises to the Cockburn fans that thinks that there is nothing new up the sleeve.

One is the horns and orchestration that embellish several tracks, most notably the title cut and This Is Baghdad. As well, the absence of any of the spoken-word pieces which have been part of the Cockburn package for the last couple of decades is replaced by some stunning falsetto work on Beautiful Creatures and To Fit In My Heart

Ever since early pieces like All the Diamonds and Lord of The Starfields from the 1970s, the glue of a Cockburn album is evidence of his personal, spiritual pilgrimage. This time around, Mystery stands as one of his finest pieces ever in that idiom. It clearly reflects a more inclusive spirituality which has marked Cockburn for years, a view clearly articulated by his line "God's too big to fit in a book / Nothingís too big to fit in my heart" in To Fit In My Heart.

Cockburn describes himself as "one man Ö in a nomad life" in the album-opening title track Life Short Call Now. On that song, the 61-year old stresses the solitary nature of his earthly journey by singing "Got no city, got no land, got no lover, got no wife". As he has done for the latter half of his career, he has focused much of his energy and his craft on the tragedies of this world. With Life Short Call Now, he delivers nothing short of a clarion call to humanity.

~by Wilfred Langmaid, from On The Record.




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This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.