21 September 2017, by Wilfred Langmaid -
So much for so-called writersí block.
After his 2011 album Small Source Of Comfort and the subsequent penning of his 2014 memoir Rumours Of Glory, Bruce Cockburn has ended his longest-ever period between albums with a diverse, glistening triumph that showcases his unique skills as a lyricist, melody writer, player, and singer. A sold-out Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival concert at The Playhouse on Friday, September 15 coincided with the official release date of Bone On Bone.
Cockburn offers autobiography in the album-opening States Iím In, a song that features lots of typical Cockburn motifs, including grooving and picking in a progression on one minor chord. There is also lots that is personal on the lilting life anthem Forty Years In the Wilderness, one of several travelogues on this album with a spiritual core. Other examples include the tale of a waiting observer stretched off one minor chord Looking And Waiting, the train song gospel romp Jesus Train, and the fingerpicking gospel blues album closing cover Twelve Gates To The City. The carpe deum in these days stomper Stab At Matter is so close an inflection of the Stabat Matar that it is surely no fluke.
As we saw on this tour, Cockburn has made welcome return to electric guitars. He also offers his always glorious work on 6 and 12 string acoustic. His full band sound on this album is augmented by a 9 person choir in background vocals on 6 of the 11 tracks.
On this album, Cockburn also does the every-once-in-a-while spin of a cameo instrument that one would never expect. (Think of Gary Burtonís vibraphone on 1996ís The Charity Of Night, for example) Of Bone On Bone, Ron Myles plays cornet on 4 tracks. Meanwhile, Cockburn gets solid support on the album from long-time musical compatriots Gary Craig on drums and John Dymond on bass as well as his nephew John Aaron Cockburn on accordion. Album producer Colin Linden also contributes tasty licks on 6 tracks.
Bone On Bone also includes a couple of stellar examples of the spoken-word stanza, sung chorus formula that is another Cockburn trademark Ė the passionate and heartbreaking environmental anthem False River and the brilliant 3 Al Purdys. The album also sees the welcome return of the charango which Cockburn introduced on his globetrotting albums of the 1980s in the shimmering Mon Chemin (My Road), which is yet another of the songs that depict a literal and figurative traveler.
The title track is the albumís one instrumental; it is another of the examples in Cockburnís canon where the listener ends up in wonder that this is the work of one man on one instrument.
At age 72, Bruce Cockburn is conclusively back. We got the proof in The Playhouse at Harvest, and this stellar album is a document to that fact.
Fredericton-based freelance writer Wilfred Langmaid has reviewed albums in The Daily Gleaner since 1981, and is a past judge for both the Junos and the East Coast Music Awards. His column appears each Saturday.