The Other Bruce
Folk rocker Bruce Cockburn doesn't reinvent himself
By Chris Harris/Explore

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13 April 2011 - Before he began writing the songs that would eventually comprise his latest album, Small Source of Comfort, Canadian folk rocker Bruce Cockburn -- the author of such classic tunes as If I Had a Rocket Launcher and Wondering Where the Lions Are -- toyed with the idea of completely reinventing himself as an artist. No more would faithful fans hear the Bruce Cockburn they had come to know and love over 23 albums, released over a career spanning more than 40 years. That's because Cockburn decided it was time to change things up.

"After the last album (2006's Life Short Call Now), I thought it would be really nice to change direction," says Cockburn, who will take the stage at The Egg in Albany on May 7. "I was feeling like I wanted to make some real noise, and get out there with majorly-distorted electric guitar and have a noise band, because I like that kind of stuff, bands like Sunn O))) (an overwhelming experimental noise band from Seattle). It just felt like it was time to be loud."

But despite his best intentions, Cockburn ended up writing and recording an album that sounds more like the material he released during the 1970s, perhaps the most prolific decade of the man's career. "I spent most of my time traveling on my own, and wasn't at my house very much," Cockburn says. He was splitting his time between San Francisco and New York City, living in small apartments. "You can't make that kind of music in an apartment without a lynching by your neighbors, so I ended up always bringing an acoustic guitar with me everywhere, and all of the songs were written that way, so ... "

The end result is one of Cockburn's folkiest efforts in years and marks a period of fruitful collaboration for Bruce. "It's pretty much all acoustic, with drums and bass and stuff, and while it sounds like something I would've released in the '70s, the lyrical content doesn't sound like the '70s, particularly," says Cockburn. "I'm very happy with how it came out, and one of the neat things about it, for me -- and I hope other people will feel this way -- is that there's this jazz violinist named Jenny Scheinman and she plays on the record and will be in the touring band also."

Bruce not only works on the new album with Scheinman -- who has appeared on albums by artists including Ani DiFranco and Lucinda Williams -- but also with Annabelle Chvostek, a former member of the Wailin' Jennys. Cockburn and Chvostek co-wrote two songs on the album and the duo performs a duet.

"She has a terrific musical mind," enthuses the 65-year-old folk rocker, who has had a rather unique and -- ultimately -- eventful career that's been going strong since he struck out on his own. Cockburn launched his solo career in the late 1960s, after being in or working with several Canadian rock bands including The Children, 3's A Crowd, and Olivus. The latter opened for The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream.

"It was quite an experience and Jimi was amazing," Cockburn says. "There's actually a review from the Montreal Gazette, and this is a case where someone was surely hallucinating, because it said something like, 'If it hadn't been that they were opening for Hendrix, we would have stolen the show.' I know he was hallucinating because I know it wasn't that good. But Hendrix was memorable."

On May 7, Cockburn promises an intimate affair at The Egg, with the evening's set divided equally between new material and the songs from Cockburn's extensive catalogue.

"I remember the first time I met Ani DiFranco at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival," says Cockburn. "I had read about Ani but I had never heard her. I went to hear her play, and it was jaw-dropping. I couldn't believe I was hearing such good stuff. I started to think, because there's a fairly large age difference there, and I'm thinking, 'Us old guys should shut up and get out of the way, and let these kids get at it,' because it was so good."

For her finale, DiFranco actually performed one of Bruce's songs, Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long. "I don't know what made her do that song, other than the fact she knew I was there, but it just was the loveliest thing to offset that feeling of having kind of lived past my time in a way," he says. "It made a pretty big impression on me."

Cockburn -- who was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1982, an honor he notes is "particularly meaningful" -- says he will continue to make music as long as fans still want to hear what he has to say. But he may be well into his 70s by the time another record's ready for consumption.

"I don't write as much as I used to, partly because I am getting old and partly because I have been around so long. I've just kind of said a lot of what I have to say," Cockburn says. "To think of a new thing to say or a new way to say something ... it takes longer than it used to."

Bruce Cockburn plays at The Egg on May 7 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $34.50, $29.50, $24.50. Visit for information.

From~ The Times Union, by Chris Harris/Explore, 13 April 2011.

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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.