BRUCE COCKBURN – Bone On Bone (True North TND 678)

Bone On BoneHaving released twenty-four studio albums, starting with his self-titled 1970 debut, at almost yearly intervals, the acclaimed Canadian singers-songwriter found himself hitting a creative block following 2011’s Small Source of Comfort, partly from the distraction of becoming a father again and partly because he’d poured all his energy into penning his memoir, Rumours of Glory.

But then he was approached to contribute a song to a documentary about seminal Canadian poet Al Purdy, and the spark returned. The result of that commission can be heard on the rhythmically chugging ‘3 Al Purdys’, which, featuring trumpet maestro Ron Miles on cornet and Julie Wolf on accordion, is a song written and sung in the gravelly voice of a homeless man who recites Purdy’s poems in the street in return for money and features spoken extracts from Purdy’s works, but extends beyond that as a typical Cockburn social commentary.

The album opens with the smoulderingly taut ‘States I’m In’, which he describes as literally a ‘dark night of the soul’ song about illusion and self-delusion and the tricks you play on yourself as it moves from sunset to dawn with imagery such as that of a drunk shinnying up a greased pole and “the mayor and his uniformed monkeys.”

‘Stab At Matter’ features his signature bluesy fingerpicked style, producer Colin Linden providing slide with gospel call and response vocals from Ruby Amanfu and The San Francisco Lighthouse Chorus, the latter a group of singers from Cockburn’s church who also feature on the subsequent folksier ‘Forty Years In The Wilderness’, this time joined by Mary Gauthier on a song about faith and moving forward.

It’s back to the blues with ‘Café Society’, a drivealong almost rockabilly boogie with treated vocals about the folk who collect at his local coffee shop to chew over the state of the world, slowing the blues groove down for the circling riff of ‘Looking and Waiting’, one of his faith and frustration religious-themed numbers (“scanning the skies for beacon from you”) that sees him on 12 string and mbira, joined by nephew John on accordion and sansula, Linden on slide and the Lighthouse Chorus, this time with Brandon Robert Young.

Cockburn’s name is too often absent when lists of guitar greats are bandied about, but, featuring just his picking and bones the intricate instrumental ‘Bone On Bone’ shows just why it should be mentioned alongside the likes of Clapton, Thompson, Gregson et al.

Its back to vocals for ‘Mon Chemin’ (aka ‘The Road’), accompanying himself on charango and dulcimer and singing (and swearing) in French for a meditation on a physical and existential life on the road that sees Miles providing some striking cornet cork. Bringing back nephew, Linden, Young and the Chorus, ‘False River’ started out as another commission, this time from Victoria poet laureate Yvonne Bloomer who wanted him to pen a spoken word piece about the Kinder Morgan Mountain Pipeline, the controversial pipeline which, built in 1953, carries crude oil from Alberta to the west coast of British Columbia and is the reported source of considerable environmental damage. The final form, however, is a complex rhythmically itchy fingerpicked brooding number with lines about tanker carcasses the planet’s pierced bones and even “a diamond-crusted pendant in the shape of Bart Simpson” in what emerges as a potent environmental warning that “on our own heads be our doom.”

As the title suggests, ‘Jesus Train’ is very much in Cockburn’s gospel mode, a relentless wheels turning chugger about heading for the city of God and marking another spirited turn for Amanfu and the Chorus. Continuing with the spiritual and mysticism themes given a sense of greater urgency in the Trump era, they also line up for ‘Twelve Gates To The City’, a 12 string fingerpicked gospel blues that sees Miles adding New Orleansy jazzed brass flourishes as drummer Gary Craig pins down the persistent rhythmic drive that sees the album out in fine style. The creative drought has given way to a virtual monsoon, so perhaps, following his long overdue induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, we can look forward to a follow up in the not too distant future.

Mike Davies

‘States I’m In’:

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Bruce Cockburn announces thirty-third album: Bone On Bone

Bruce Cockburn

Few recording artists are as creative and prolific as Bruce Cockburn. Since his self-titled debut in 1970, the Canadian singer-songwriter has issued a steady stream of acclaimed albums every couple of years. But that output suddenly ran dry in 2011 following the release of Small Source Of Comfort. There were good reasons for the drought. For one thing, Cockburn became a father again with the birth of his daughter Iona. Then there was the publication of his 2014 memoir Rumours Of Glory.

“I didn’t write any songs until after the book was published because all my creative energy had gone into three years of writing it”, Cockburn explains, from his home in San Francisco. “There was simply nothing left to write songs with. As soon as the book was put to bed, I started asking myself whether I was ever going to be a songwriter again.”

Such doubt was new to the man who’s rarely been at a loss for words as he’s distilled political views, spiritual revelations and personal experiences into some of popular music’s most compelling songs. What spurred Cockburn back into songwriting was an invitation to contribute a song to a documentary film about the late, seminal Canadian poet Al Purdy and he was off to the races.

Bone On Bone, Cockburn’s 33rd album, arrives with eleven new songs, including ‘3 Al Purdys’, a brilliant, six-minute epic that pays tribute to Purdy’s poetry. Cockburn explains its genesis: “I went out and got Purdy’s collected works, which is an incredible book. Then I had this vision of a homeless guy who is obsessed with Purdy’s poetry, and he’s ranting it on the street. The song is written in the voice of that character. The chorus goes, “I’ll give you three Al Purdys for a twenty dollar bill.” Here’s this grey-haired dude, coat tails flapping in the wind, being mistaken for the sort of addled ranters you run into on the street – except he’s not really ranting, he’s reciting Al Purdy. The spoken word parts of the track are excerpts from Purdy’s poems. After that, once the ice was broken, the songs just started coming.”

Cockburn’s rugged fingerpicking style on the Dobro perfectly matches Purdy’s plainspoken words and the grizzled voice of his street character. A similar guitar style can be heard on two of the next songs Cockburn wrote, the gospel-like ‘Jesus Train’, and ‘Café Society’, a bluesy number about people who gather at his local coffee shop to sip their java and talk about the state of the world.

There’s a prevalent urgency and anxious tone to much of the album, which Cockburn attributes to living in America during the Trump era. But, more than anything, Bone On Bone amounts to the deepest expression of Cockburn’s spiritual concerns to date. The 12-time Juno winner and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee turned away from traditional Christianity in the mid-1970s toward a quest for the more all-inclusive mysticism he documents in his memoir. And it’s that kind of spirituality that figures prominently in ‘Jesus Train’ and ‘Twelve Gates To The City’. In ‘Looking And Waiting’, Cockburn sings of “scanning the skies for a beacon” from the divine.

“It’s a song of faith and frustration”, says Cockburn of the latter. “…Tired of looking in from the outside. My MO has always been to be aware of the divine…that dimension…always dealing with being stuck in a kind of observer’s position with respect to all that. I know it’s there. I don’t really see as faith so much as knowledge.

Others may have different ideas about those things, but for me, I don’t have to struggle to believe in God, or the notion that God cares what happens to me. But I do have to struggle with being in a conscious, intentional relationship. That underlies a lot of these songs.”

‘Forty Years In The Wilderness’ ranks alongside ‘Pacing The Cage’ or ‘All The Diamonds’ as one of Cockburn’s most starkly beautiful folk songs. “There have been so many times in my life when an invitation has come from somewhere…the cosmos…the divine…to step out of the familiar into something new. I’ve found it’s best to listen for, and follow these promptings. The song is really about that. You can stay with what you know or you can pack your bag and go where you’re called, even if it seems weird…even if you can’t see why or where you’ll end up.”

‘Forty Years In The Wilderness’ is one of several songs that feature a number of singers from the church Cockburn frequents, for the sake of convenience referred to in the album credits as the San Francisco Lighthouse “Chorus”. “The music was one of the enticements that drew me to SF Lighthouse. As I found myself becoming one of the regulars there, and got to know the people, I felt that I really wanted all these great singers, who were now becoming friends, to be on the album. They were kind enough to say yes!” Among other songs, they contribute call-and-response vocals to the stirring ‘Stab At Matter’. Other guests on the album include singer-songwriters Ruby Amanfu, Mary Gauthier, and Brandon Robert Young, along with bassist Roberto Occhipinti, and Julie Wolf, who plays accordion on ‘3 Al Purdys’ and sings with the folks from Lighthouse, together with LA songwriter Tamara Silvera.

Produced by Colin Linden, Cockburn’s longtime collaborator, the album is built around the musicianship of Cockburn on guitar and the core accompaniment of bassist John Dymond and drummer Gary Craig. Also very much part of the sound is the accordion playing of Cockburn’s nephew John Aaron Cockburn and the solos of noted fluegelhorn player Ron Miles (check out his stunning work on the cascading ‘Mon Chemin’, for example).

Two other songs should be noted. The environmental warning ‘False River’ came about at the invitation of Yvonne Bloomer, the poet laureate of Victoria, British Columbia. Bloomer was seeking a poem about the controversial Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline. “Pipelines have their own perils that we’re all aware of”, says Cockburn, “so I started writing what was meant to be a spoken-word piece with a rhythm to it. But it evolved very quickly into a song.”

‘States I’m In’, which opens the album, conjures up feelings of mystery and dread. “It’s literally a ‘dark night of the soul’ kind of song”, Cockburn explains, “as it starts with sunset and ends with dawn. It passes through the night. The song is about illusion and self-delusion, looking at the tricks you play on yourself.”  He adds: “Maybe it’s also a play on words about me living in the States.”

Cockburn, who won the inaugural People’s Voice Award at the Folk Alliance International conference in February and will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in September, continues to find inspiration in the world around him and channel those ideas into songs. “My job is to try and trap the spirits of things in the scratches of pen on paper and the pulling of notes out of metal”, he once noted. More than forty years after embarking on his singer-songwriting career, Cockburn keeps kicking at the darkness so that it might bleed daylight.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: http://brucecockburn.com/

Here’s thirty-five minutes of Bruce Cockburn courtesy of Acoustic Guitar Sessions:

Annabelle Chvostek Ensemble – Rise

Annabelle Chvostek RiseRise, is a rousing celebration of recent grassroots uprisings in Canada and around the world – complete with casseroles, a “peoples’ chorus” and a cover of Peter Tosh’s ‘Equal Rights’.

Annabelle Chvostek is a Montreal artist, who went on to write chart-topping roots songs and play New York’s Town Hall as a member of the Wailin’ Jennys. , Chvostek now shows off a whole other side of her musical personality on Rise as compared to 2008’s Resilience – the album that introduced her fearless innovation and beguiling indie folk sound to a massive, post-Jennys audience.

Where Resilience was a plaintive album that showcased Chvostek’s originality in contemplating matters of the heart, Rise is joyful, anthemic, and unabashedly political, revealing Chvostek’s passion for social justice work and musical activism. Call it protest music for the indie generation or a soundtrack for the Maple Spring.

‘End of the Road’, is a veritable block party of an opening track that conveys Chvostek’s glee at seeing thousands of people finally rising against injustice. ‘Rise’ is a soaring, heartfelt call to arms to defend an abandoned meadow in Montreal’s Mile End – a privately-owned but publicly-claimed gathering place where locals have taken up “guerilla gardening” and graffiti artists have made a canvas of nearby concrete. ‘Do You Think You’re Right’ is a response to the documentary Jesus Camp that may never have made the album if not for Bruce Cockburn. And ‘G20 Song’ is a seething chronicle of events that welcomed Chvostek home to Toronto when she moved back from Montreal in 2010. The Eastern European “vibe” – which turns up on several tracks on the album – is inspired by Chvostek’s work on the soundtrack forTransition, Tamara Vukov’s documentary about factory workers in post-war Serbia.

Of course, not all the numbers on Rise have explicit activist undertones. Some celebrate simpler pleasures than the electrifying spirit of street protest. ‘Ona (In Toronto I Get More Hugs, In Montreal I Get More Kisses)’, for example, is a quirky, uplifting, and lovable little ditty, feting the differences between Montreal, Toronto and New York.

Rise was produced by ex-Rheostatic Don Kerr and mixed by New York-based Grammy and Oscar nominee (and ex-pat Montrealer) Roma Baran, along with her studio partner, Viv Stoll. It features guest vocals by Cockburn and Oh Susanna, guitars by David Celia, and percussion by Debashis Sinha of Autorickshaw and Minor Empire. Chvostek herself plays a lot of mandolin and fiddle on the album, often drawing driving, pulsating backdrops from these frequently-sweet-sounding strings.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist web link: www.annabellemusic.com

Martyn Joseph – Songs For The Coming Home – reviewed by Trish Roberts

After 30 plus years of making music you would be forgiven for thinking an artist would plateau at some point, happy to remain within familiar boundaries of the singer/songwriter, the man, voice and guitar. However , that is most assuredly not the case here !. Whatever preconceptions there are of what to expect ignore them, they will be way off the mark; I know mine were.

This is Martyn as people know him, never shy of confronting subjects as only he knows how to. On this creation we have suicide, redemption, grace, soul searching, love, sacrifice, confession and moral ire, all tackled and delivered in such a way that is completely engrossing. This is also Martyn as we have never heard him, dare I say some of this is as personal as any album has been. It is not an album that a 20 year old could have written, this has only been arrived at by a life lived with eyes, heart and soul wide open.

The production by Mason Neely is vast and has well and truly shredded any blueprints, if ever there were any, but with the core of the Martyn Joseph people know still firmly there. It’s vital, exhilarating and subtle, dynamic and serene. If Under Lemonade Skies, the last album, was a look into the box of possibilities of where his music could go, with Songs For The Coming Home that box has been fully delved into. On many tracks he has created amazing sound backdrops with the inclusion of strings, steel guitar, brass, cello and drums while not overwhelming the man and guitar.

Every track is worth its weight right from the opener ‘Crossing the Line’, with the discordant music that weaves the song and matches the confusion and grief behind a suicide and the fall out that results. The song is always on the edge of shuddering into chaos but the slow beautiful guitar and Martyns tender/ tough vocals hold it together, it’s a song that each listen takes you deeper and dares you to ask questions.

The album flows effortlessly along with songs like the uplifting Still a Lot of Love’ ,  with the familiar man, guitar and gorgeous community singing .

My personal highlight is the life affirming  ‘Let Yourself’ an empowering and poignant song, with a cello carrying along Martyns vocals. This carries one of my favourite lines of the album, ‘And you can bring it on world, throw everything, cos in the end love wins big, and there are some of us who will not be lying down“.

Another highlight is the  stark confessional ‘Falling from Grace’ with sublime guitar that harks back to ‘Turn Me Tender’ from the 2004 album Deep Blue. It tells of the pitfalls we all stumble into through life now and again, some fall deeper than others but with the end telling us there is hope  .

The upbeat feel of ‘Feels Like This’ is a Bruce Cockburn like song which screams to be on every radio playlist, don’t be fooled by the bouncy singable rhythm though .

The re-worked Whoever it was … carries a different weight from the version from the 2003 album of the same name and at first glance at the track list I wondered if it had its place on this new album , simple answer is , absolutely. The voice maybe wearier and more measured  and the guitar slower, but the impact is deeper .

The guitar/ drum laden provocative ‘No time For God’  demands to be played loud! , the  rousing chorus will probably have the hackles rising on some followers .This appeals to my anarchic/ punk sensibilities and is a belter, you cannot help yourself sing along , it’s a proper  Saturday night festival rant, and there is  a great Wilco Johnson like harmonica solo screaming in the middle .

The key song that defines the album is the profound ‘Clara’ a classic Joseph storyteller song , you are drawn into this amazing panoramic image that unveils the primal power of music that transcends comprehension …but I will leave that there , it is to be discovered…..’Hope we all have a Clara’

Finally ,the  turbulence returns with the hard hitting, contradictory and courageous  ‘Archive’  Probably one of the finest and piercingly personal songs  he has produced.

I have only scratched the surface , but there are 10 tracks on this album that have to be revealed to each listener without too many preconceptions , it’s a case of headphones on, or a long drive or whatever, and immerse yourself in this track by track.

Buckle up for one heck of a ride.

In short, this is a colossal creation.

Trish Roberts – 5* Review

“There are moments on this record that I will always treasure; small nuances of memory and recall that are both painful and joyous. The highlight for me is the song ‘Archive’. On long car journeys touring across Canada last year with poet, guru and friend Stewart Henderson we talked, and talked and went deeper and deeper. He started writing, and at some point on a prairie plain in Alberta he handed me some words on the back of an envelope. Months later in the early hours of the morning I took them to a microphone with no melodic agenda and just played and sang. The result was the first and only take that ended up on the album. Its me with my soul howling. Its what I like to do.” Martyn Joseph

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Latest tour date details: http://www.martynjoseph.net/category/tourdates/

BRUCE COCKBURN – Small Source of Comfort

Bruce Cockburn has always been a restless spirit. Over the course of four decades, the celebrated Canadian artist has traveled to the corners of the earth out of humanitarian concerns – often to trouble spots experiencing events that have led to some of his most memorable songs. Going up against chaos, even if it involves grave risks, can be necessary to get closer to the truth.

“My mother once said that I must have a death wish, always going to what she called ‘those awful places,’” laughs Cockburn. “I don’t think of it that way. I make these trips partly because I want to see things for myself and partly out of my own sense of adventure.”

Released in April 2011, Small Source of Comfort, Cockburn’s 31st album, is his latest adventurous collection of songs of romance, protest and spiritual discovery. Winning this year’s Juno Award for Best Roots and Traditional Album, and his 12th Juno Award to date, the album, primarily acoustic yet rhythmically savvy, is rich in Cockburn’s characteristic blend of folk, blues, jazz and rock. As usual, many of the new compositions come from his travels and spending time in places like San Francisco and Brooklyn to the Canadian Forces base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, jotting down his typically detailed observations about the human experience.

Bruce Cockburn’s songs, along with his humanitarian work, have brought him a long list of honours, including an induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award and several international awards. In 1982, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Officer in 2002. Last year, the Luminato festival honoured Cockburn’s extensive songbook with a tribute concert featuring such varied guests as jazz guitarist Michael Occhipinti, folk-rapper Buck 65, country rockers Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, country-folk singers Sylvia Tyson and Amelia Curran, pop artists the Barenaked Ladies and Hawksley Workman, and folk-pop trio The Wailin’ Jennys.

Never content to rest on his laurels, Cockburn keeps looking ahead. “I’d rather think about what I’m going to do next”, he once said. “My models for graceful aging are guys like John Lee Hooker and Mississippi John Hurt, who never stopped working till they dropped, as I fully expect to be doing, and just getting better as musicians and as human beings.” Small Source of Comfort, a reflection of Cockburn’s ever-expanding world of wonders, is the latest step in his creative evolution.

With a career spanning more than four decades, producing an acclaimed body of work that has sold over 2 million copies worldwide, Bruce Cockburn continues to be revered by fans and fellow musicians alike as one of the most important songwriters of his generation.

Small Source of Comfort is Cockburn’s first studio album since 2006 – a rhythmic and highly evocative collection of 14 new tracks inspired by his renowned unusual and diverse muse – recent trips to Afghanistan and ponderings on the re-incarnation of Richard Nixon, to road trips and unreturned phone calls. The album boasts some of the best musicians recording today, including violinist Jenny Scheinman, former Wailin’ Jenny Annabelle Chvostek, and long time collaborators Gary Craig, Jon Dymond and producer Colin Linden.

As both a songwriter and a guitarist, Bruce Cockburn is considered among the world’s best. The New York Times called him a “virtuoso on guitar”, while Acoustic Guitar magazine placed him in the esteemed company of Andrés Segovia, Bill Frisell and Django Reinhardt.

Cockburn’s songs have been covered by such diverse and talented artists as Elbow, Jimmy Buffett, Judy Collins, Anne Murray, Chet Atkins, K.D. Lang, Barenaked Ladies, and the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist web link: www.brucecockburn.com