Bruce Cockburn – Small Source Of Comfort
2011, True North Records
Bruce Cockburn has based his life on deep experience. Over the years, Cockburn has travelled to the world’s trouble points, to see the truths of human existence for himself. Cockburn has documented these experiences on thirty albums over the years, with a sense of subtlety and musicality that is rare in rock n roll. An Officer of the Order of Canada and a member of the Canadian Music Hall Of Fame, Bruce Cockburn’s music has been covered by such artists are Barenaked Ladies, Anne Murray, Ani DiFranco, Dan Fogelberg, Judy Collins and Jimmy Buffett. On March 8, 2011, Cockburn releases his 31st album, Small Source Of Comfort.
Small Source Of Comfort opens with “Iris Of The World”, commenting on the tendency of humanity to grab onto meaningless things while overlooking things that matter. Semi-autographical, the song finds Cockburn perhaps sharing his own role in the human play; recognizing the beauty of a moment and sharing it with others. This is classic Cockburn, finding the subtle depths of an experience and exposing them in a complex, highly rhythmic and oddly beautiful arrangement. “Call Me Rose” is a tongue in cheek story song about Richard Nixon reincarnated as a single mother of two kids living in the projects. It’s something of a Great Reversal concept (“the last will be first and the first will be last”) born of Judeo-Christian theology, but is very amusing and is written from a very human perspective. In Cockburn’s musical daydream Nixon sees himself for who he was and is a better person for it, even if he continues to long for the old days. Cockburn sticks to a fairly straight-forward folk-rock arrangement this time around in order to let the story shine through.
“Bohemian 3-Step” is a pretty instrumental that plays like a slow waltz, relying on cross-rhythms, or a variant, to create an intriguing sense of rhythm. The piece has great energy, and is beautifully crafted. “Radiance” is a musical meditation on beauty, both in lyrics and music. Cockburn impresses with unusually beautiful guitar work, capturing an abject loneliness in both his instrument and voice as he looks on from afar. The cello is a nice touch, completing the tragic displacement of the vocal line in dark and dulcet tones. This is a musical ‘wow’ moment; a song that’s both heart-breaking and uplifting in its beauty. “Five Fifty-One” is an edgy story song that plays on the edges of folk, rock and blues. The story here is a bit disjointed, a calculated effect given the state of mind of the story teller. The cops show up at his house in the wee hours of the morning and we’re never entirely certain why, but the overall impression is of someone who is dancing on the edge of madness. Cockburn creates a highly rhythmic arrangement that leaves ample room for acoustic guitar-driven sidebars that will make the most of the would-be guitarists out there wish they could play like that.
“Lois On The Autobahn” is an energetic instrumental that plays off Cockburn’s guitar against a dancing dervish of a violin, capturing a sound not dissimilar from that of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. “Boundless” is a spiritual exploration in song; exploring the similarities between the boundlessness of space and of belief. Cockburn creates an ethereal feel at the opening with a multitude of bells, but moves quickly into an urgent vocal line over (for Cockburn) a relatively simple arrangement. The imagery used here has many levels; delivered in poetic prose that is laced deep with references both cultural and theological. Wit takes over on “Called Me Back”, a humorous take on a call that never comes, and the resulting anxiety over what might have happened to a close friend. It’s an entertaining turn; a well-placed moment of levity that both highlights Cockburn’s depth as a songwriter and works in much the same fashion as a comic song placed in the middle of a big Broadway musical.
“Comets Of Kandahar” is a dark instrumental that again pairs Cockburn’s guitar with violin; this time the result is dark with a disturbed energy. The composition itself is amazing, and was inspired by Cockburn’s trip to Afghanistan to play for Canadian troops in theater. “Each One Lost”, inspired by the same trip, is a somber tribute to those who have given their lives. The song is full of heartbreak and plays like a lonely hymn, punctuated by a lonely accordion. “Parnassus And The Fog” finds Cockburn’s guitar once again paired with violin in a lilting instrumental ballad that plays like a love song. “Ancestors” is a gorgeous, haunting instrumental full of staccato guitar against a dreamlike background of musical ether. The affect of the piece is subtle and compelling, as Cockburn builds a story into the rhythm of the song. Small Source Of Comfort closes with “Gifts”, a quiet celebration of the moments in life that illuminate an emotion, person or place and define meaning for us. It’s a gorgeous, quiet arrangement that whispers quietly to you about the truth of what’s important in the world.
Bruce Cockburn is a rare gem in the world of singers and songwriters. His depth and subtlety as both a musician and lyricist puts him in rarefied air. Small Source Of Comfort is an album that, if not at peace with the world around it, has certainly found the peace that comes with understanding hard truths. A decade or two ago Cockburn would have railed at government and political machines in a mad frenzy, driving the intricate beauty of his music into exile under the constant barrage of verbal artillery aimed at the injustices of the world. Small Source Of Comfort takes deadly aim at the same sort of social inconsistencies, but with a subtle grace and veracity that cuts far deeper that some of his past efforts. Where a younger Bruce Cockburn would have imbued his message with the power of righteous indignation, the songwriter now allows the simple power of truth to blend with the intricate beauty of his musical creations to reach beyond the defenses of even the most politically hardened psyche. Small Source Of Comfort stands amongst Cockburn’s finest works, and is a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)