BRUCE COCKBURN – O Sun O Moon (True North Records)

O Sun O MoonBruce Cockburn once sang, “The trouble with normal is it always gets worse”.  But that’s simply not true for his new album, O Sun O Moon, because it is, indeed, a quite “normal” BC album – with brilliant songwriting, idiosyncratic and profound lyricism, a modern universal blues vibe, dexterous acoustic guitar work, really decent spirituality, and a world-weary voice that sings about a world that is, quite frankly, a bit world-weary itself.

The second song, ‘Orders’ is timeless Bruce Cockburn. The acoustic guitar work could well have been found in an early classic like ‘Hand Dancing’ from the Joy Will Find A Way album. And the lyric is a scattershot of humanity that includes “the cynic, crooked priest, the oaf, and even “the neighbors fighting down the hall”.  Indeed, the tune is a kaleidoscope of people on The Inner City Front. Perhaps, the character (from the eclectic Small Source Of Comfort) who says, “My name was Richard Nixon only now I’m a girl” and who also clarifies, (to almost quote Paul Simon!) “You can call me Rose”, is also in the mix! Of course, in typical Cockburn fashion, we are given “orders to love them all”. The poet William Blake said, “Everything that lives is holy”. The tune echoes that unique spirituality.

The song, ‘Us All” echoes that spiritually as the song blends, with a symphonic breath, a call for blessed unity. The song curls a flaming shadow of a melodic votive candle in sadly neglected cathedral.

And ditto for ‘Push Comes To Shove’, that has a bluesy pulse (with a violin caress!) and declares this album’s ethos – “It’s all about love”. And the song is, perhaps, a distant cousin to the early Night Vison tune, ‘Momma Just Wants To Barrelhouse All Night Long’. Nice!

Then, the ultra-melodic ‘Colin Went Down To The Water’ makes the death of a friend into a soothing hymn to the unexplained sorrow that mixes with the poet John Keats’ eternal sea metaphor. This song echoes that sincere profundity of Gordon Lightfoot’s brilliant song, Too Late For Prayin’, which just like BC’s best work, attempts to “stem the tide of broken dreams”.

But back to front: The first song, ‘On A Roll’, with its resonator guitar grit, has all the radio-friendly BC pulsed occasional single like ‘Lovers In A Dangerous Time’, (the before mentioned) ‘The Trouble With Normal’, ‘Wondering Where the Lions Are’, and ‘If A Tree Falls’. Nice, again!

And speaking of the trees in the Amazon Forest, ‘To Keep The World We Know’ is the (almost obligatory) environmental clarion call.

Delightfully odd is ‘King Of The Bolero’, which deviates from the often mystical Cockburn canon and sings the praises, with French clarinet cabernet clarity, of an eternal guitar guy, who plays magical music into an unknown and equally eternal night. It’s a nice big horned reprieve.

The instrumental, ‘Haiku’ is yet another spirited voyage into BC’s world of ‘Skylarking’ acoustic guitar joy.

And there’s a melodic bundle of Bruce’s (before mentioned) really decent spiritual songs, that thankfully, are inclusive to all who pursue those “better angels of our nature”. ‘Into The Now’ keeps the album’s quiet pace but speaks tough psychological wisdom that carves a pathway “out of the armor and into the now”, that begs for the end of “fascist architecture” that keeps “love confined”. The wonderful ‘When The Spirit Walks In The Room’ (which name checks both “Manhattan” or “Dakar”), spreads the ever present redemption to every “thread upon the loom”, which metaphorically spins any mythology’s Fate’s yarn that inches toward each and all holy concepts of salvation. And ‘O Sun By Day O Moon By Night’ elevates the album from commercial concerns into the twilight of art. This is pure devotion, much like Van Morrison achieved with his song, ‘In The Garden’ on his brilliant album, No Teacher, No Method, No Guru. Big nonsectarian compliments all around!

The album stumbles rather nicely into its conclusion with ‘When You Arrive’, which has the gruff circus swing of a nice Tom Waits’ song. And it ends the album on a positive note, because life is really tough, as we humans are always “dragging the accretions of a lifetime” but we are left with the perfect Bruce Cockburn quasi-optimistic comment, “But You ought to make another mile or two”.   

Bruce Cockburn, once again, takes us all “through the iris of the world”. It’s a “eye of a needle” melodic camel ride with that world-weary voice that sings about a world that is, quite frankly, (as said) a bit world wearied with itself. But through all the resurrected vinyl grooves, BC sings with his usual cavalier dark humour, “I could swim with the bears where the ice used to be”. Sure, and like all folk music that’s imbued with wisdom (and never “gets worse”), O Sun O Moon skates quite bravely on really thin, and thankfully, profound and honest folksinger artistic ice.

Bill Golembeski

Artist’s website:

‘On A Roll’ – lyric video:

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