2 June 2003 - Some say that you can find truth anywhere, if you are willing to just look. Bruce Cockburn appears to be one of those willing to take a peek and explore the possibility that there may be more to see than meets the eye. In his latest release, "You've Never Seen Everything", due out June 10th, Bruce takes a cantilevered path between the seen and the unseen, exploring the small recesses, the dark corners, where most fear to go, asking in the same breath why and why not?
"We're confronted with great darkness as a species right now, as spiritual creatures on this planet," says Cockburn in his artist bio at Rounder Records, "I don't think it's hopeless, and I don't want this album to make people feel hopeless. But I think we've got to call a spade and spade."
For anyone even moderately familiar with Cockburn's body of work it will come as no surprise that this album covers a wide range of emotion. The title track, You've Never Seen Everything, is a series of dark snapshots, taken in black and white; images captured, incidents we'd speak of only in whispers if we'd witnessed them ourselves all strung together with:
Bad pressure coming down
Tears - what we really traffic in
ride the ribbon of shadow
Never feel the light falling all around
Trickle Down grabs the global capitalistic world by the throat and gives it a good shake. Co-written by Cockburn and jazz pianist Andy Milne, it meanders on jazzy tangents with Milne easily matching Bruce's finesse on the guitar with his piano forte. Milne and Cockburn also joined forces on Everywhere Dance, which is a sharp contrast in mood and feel to the more darkly political pieces on the album with the harmonica of Gregoire Maret lightly dancing around the edges:
In wounded streets and whispered prayer
The dance is truth and its everywhere
"It was good to work with people whose skills are very different from mine and are also highly developed", says Cockburn.
All Our Dark Tomorrows opens with the gentle sounds of the forest, but you soon realize you are in the dark recesses of the mind turned on itself:
There's a parasite feeding on
Everybody's bag of rage
Haunting, captivating it carries the listener back to that forest and sets them gently back down in the end, and you're grateful for it.
Postcards From Cambodia first appeared as a poem of recollection in Bruce's omnipresent notebook. It was premiered as such under the title 'Cambodia' on Vin Scelsa's Idiot Delight radio show in 1999, at which point Cockburn wasn't sure if it would end up as a song at all. As one of his spoken word pieces, it melds Asian influenced syncopated percussion with the chronicles of a visit to Cambodia. He was invited by the Viet Nam veterans to witness the results of the use of landmines during war. The result is stunning.
Don't Forget About Delight brings the 'other' side to light, Cockburn taking a deep breath, letting out a long sigh and reminding us all:
Y know what I'm saying to you
September 11th hit the world with a shockwave and Cockburn recalled, "I found myself watching TV like everyone else on Sept 11th, and I thought, 'How pathetic to address something like that with a song.' But after the next few days, I thought there is not a much better way to address that - to help us put that in perspective. This song helped me (get perspective) maybe not directly, but I wouldn't have written it without (the events of Sept 11th). A friend of mine said if we are going to have a war about anything, we should have a war on fundamentalism." [March 5, 2002, Senator Theater, Baltimore, MD]. The result was, Put it in Your Heart, a keenly reflective look at the world as we've come to know it.
Juxtaposed is the rollicking gospel rhythm of Wait No More, where Cockburn's engaging rhythms mesh with Marsh's mystical violin, that would seem to call a cobra from its basket into a sensuous dance that somehow, somehow gets your toes to tapping. The dusky voice of Jonell Mosser provides the harmony and you can almost see the heat lightening flashing on the dark horizon:
Lightening a kiss that lands hot on the loins of the sky
Something uncoils at the base of my spine and I cry
I want to wait no more,
Wait no more.
Tried and Tested, poetic and with an hypnotic beat finds Cockburn questioning day to day existence and in the end proclaiming:
Pierced by beauty's blade and skinned by wind
Begged for more -- was given -- begged again
I'm still here
I'm still here
"You look at war and environmental problems and you look at what's causing them and what's preventing us from solving them and the trail always leads to human greed. Somebody's getting paid to keep it that way or make it worse. Everyone's wondering what it all means and what we can do about it."
Celestial Horses, perhaps the oldest piece on the album, dates from the summer of 1978 and recalls the experience of finding a measure of peace amidst the turmoil of the world while relaxing in a Canadian Rockie's hot spring. It's honest, simple and yet captivating as Marsh's violin soars about like a hawk in the wind.
Open, the first single from the album, debuted at #33 on the AAA format radio in the US. With a beat reminiscent of one of Cockburn's bike rides, Open talks of the search for balance and cadence and the need to belong to something. It carries you along lifted again by the ethereal violin of Marsh, who appears on all but one of the tracks.
"What I see happening in the face of all this darkness is something new in human spirituality, openness, some sense of our common destiny. We've got to keep nudging ourselves in the direction of good and respect for each other," says Cockburn. Recollective and hopeful, 'to be one more voice in the human choir' Bruce brings this album to a close with Messenger Wind.
Written mostly over a span of the past three years, and during a well-deserved hiatus of a year, the songs create a tableau laid out before the listener to savor. Joined by old friends such as Colin Linden, who co-produced You've Never Seen Everything and Hugh Marsh, who appeared on all of Cockburn's recordings in the 1980s, Cockburn has joined forces with some new musical influences, in Andy Milne and Gregoire Maret and the result is fantastic. Stephen Hodges and Larry Taylor, of Tom Waits' rhythm section are joined by the familiar (to Cockburn fans) Steve Lucas and Ben Riley to round out the bass and percussion section on many of the tunes.
Sarah Harmer, who performed on the same bill at the Quebec G8 Summit benefit, joins Cockburn on Open, Don't Forget About Delight and Postcards from Cambodia and he chose well. Fellow activists Jackson Browne and Emmylou Harris, with whom Cockburn has performed at many anti-landmine benefit concerts also provide their vocal stylings.
"I'm afraid of repeating myself. It's a phobia I have. I never assume I'm going to be able to write another album after I finish one. It's a gift when I'm able to and I never take it for granted. If there's a trick to it all, it involves approaching life with a sense of openness. If you don't keep learning and growing, you're going to stagnate."
Bruce, you're not stagnant and thanks for the gift.
Suzanne DeMuth Myers
Editor: The Cockburn Project