18 September 2017 - After writing his 2014 memoir [Rumours of Glory], Bruce Cockburn wasnít sure he was still a songwriter, a startling disclosure considering the scope of his illustrious music career, which has spanned more than 50 years, dozens of albums, multiple Juno Awards, an Order of Canada, a Governor Generalís performing arts award and membership in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
The Ottawa-born folk legend is also being inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, along with Neil Young, Beau Dommage and Stephen Venne, during a ceremony in Toronto on Sept. 23.
"There was an extended period when I didnít write any songs," revealed the silver-haired troubadour in a recent interview. "The memoir took three years of pretty intense focus. All of the creative energy that would have gone into songwriting went into the book, and there was nothing left over for anything else."
What finally cracked open the creative floodgates and led to the superb new album, Bone On Bone, was, in effect, an assignment. Cockburn was invited to contribute to the 2015 documentary on the noted Canadian poet Al Purdy, and decided to take up the challenge.
"Itís not typical in my experience to write a song on demand, whether someone elseís demand or mine. I kind of sit around and wait for a good idea," Cockburn says. "But in this case, Iíd been going for all those years without writing songs and I wasnít sure thereíd be any good ideas and then along comes this opportunity, and it seemed like the perfect invitation to get back into songwriting again. I said yes right away."
The song is 3 Al Purdys, an acoustically rhythmic, six-minute tale of a homeless man obsessed with Purdyís poems, and a chorus that goes, 'Iíll give you three Al Purdys for a $20 bill." Itís a brilliant tune, combining spoken-word poetry (by Purdy) with a mesmerizing hook thatís not unlike Cockburnís 1979 nugget, Wondering Where The Lions Are.
The rest of the album is no less finely crafted. His first studio project in seven years, itís also the first since Cockburn moved to the San Francisco area, married his longtime girlfriend, M.J. Hannett, and welcomed a baby girl into the world. Their daughter, Iona, who turns six in November, is in first grade at a French immersion school in San Fran.
While the new songs are not obviously political, they are informed by living in the U.S., as hinted in the title of the first single, States Iím In, an atmospheric mood piece built on Cockburnís precisely fingered acoustic guitar work and world-weary lyrics. He describes it as a "dark night of the soul experience.
"Itís just one of those songs that come from looking around and feeling whatís happening," he says. "The whole album is coloured in a subtle way by the fact that Iíve been living in the States for a few years, and it is a really different place."
You wonít hear another If I Had a Rocket Launcher on this record, but you will hear songs that explore spirituality from a Christian perspective, something Cockburn has embraced to varying degrees throughout his life.
These days, itís a big focus, partly because Cockburn has been going to church again for the first time in years. "Itís been a long time since I darkened the door of a church," he says. "I kind of fell away from it when I moved out of Ottawa at the end of the í70s."
But when his wife started attending services at San Franciscoís Lighthouse church, she encouraged him to join her. "I resisted it for a while and eventually gave in," he says. "Then I walked in the door and it was like I had walked into a sauna, only instead of heat, it was love. It was a tangible vibe in the room. It was really a shock actually."
A couple of songs ó Forty Years in the Wilderness and Stab at Matter ó feature a chorus of singers from the Lighthouse church.
Produced by fellow Canadian musician and longtime collaborator, Colin Linden, the album is based on the musicianship of Cockburn and bandmates John Dymond (bass) and Gary Craig (drums), with a roster of guests, including his nephew, John Aaron Cockburn, on accordion. The younger Cockburn, a singer-songwriter-producer and multi-instrumentalist who plays accordion, guitar and piano, grew up in Ottawa and has his own band, Little Suns, will also join his uncleís group for the upcoming tour, Bruceís most extensive in years.
At 72, itís clear that Cockburn is not interested in slowing down. "Iíve never taken the notion of retiring seriously. Of course, anything could happen. My hands could stop working or my brain could stop working, and that could be the occasion for retirement," he muses.
"But I never think of that. My models are the old blues guys, like John Lee Hooker and Mississippi John Hurt, who basically just played til they dropped. Thatís kind of my expectation."
~from Lynn Saxberg - Ottawa Sun