Bruce Cockburn exemplifies the singer-songwriter era of the 1970s in that themes shape his lyrics. He, however, went way beyond the standard recipe. While his contemporaries might have been immersed in tales of unrequited love, the Canadian singer-songwriter-guitarist drew inspiration from his travels to war-torn countries and observations of limited natural resources.

This Sunday evening set was comprised of more than twenty of his compositions, several drawn from his 31st studio album, ‘Small Source of Comfort’ (True North Records), which includes satirical works and five instrumentals. Though the confident Cockburn could have held his own on the stage, his partnership with east-coast violinist/singer/arranger Jenny Scheinman, with whom he collaborated for the new release, added phenomenal textures to his melodies and bright, but understated harmonies.

‘Last Night of the World’ was a great opener, featuring a lyrical mix of optimism and wit, as well as relevance as recent headlines cryptically suggested that the apocalypse was upon us. Cockburn’s reaction? Pop open the champagne. Scheinman’s reaction? Play sweetly until the ship goes down.

‘Mango in a Garden’, a lesser known song, was softly executed, and almost Caribbean in nature. The first few bars of ‘Lovers in a Dangerous Time’ were immediately recognized when the frosty-haired minstrel aggressively punched out the skeleton on his muted, green guitar.

Many in attendance at Old Town’s modern listening room with its pew-like seating and extraordinary sight lines were fans from way back, but those at my table were suburbanites and Old Town School regulars who hadn’t heard of Cockburn before. Although they didn’t comprehend all of the lyrics, they were intrigued by the shifting moods the songs inspired.

Gary Craig, on percussion, played a variety of instruments including a standard kit, a series of huge, brass bells and shakers. Craig flawlessly transitioned between numbers, regardless of the choices.

Probably, the most striking song of the evening, which started out a capella, and was again recognized by the older fans, was ‘Pacing the Cage’ – a metaphor for confusion, restlessness, and depression?

Cockburn is a highly-skilled guitarist who relies on the drone and expert picking to balance out his profound epiphanies. The searing instrumental, ‘Ancestors’, was a divine contrast, making full use of the ancient ringing bells. Cockburn warned that he would be “inflicting” more tunes from his new album on this audience tonight.

“Across the concrete fields,” sang Cockburn, in his rendition of ‘Strange Water’. And ‘Iris of the World’ was gift-wrapped by Scheinman’s extraordinary, high-pitched jabs, and heightened by Cockburn’s hard rock solo, not to mention, a pretty light show that reflected off the muted walls and ceiling.

A composition by Scheinman, ‘Albert’ – a tribute to Albert Ayler - was a surprise as Scheinman had opened the show - and featured her new instrumental works and vocal numbers. Both musicians leave themselves open to limitless musical notions and it was interesting to observe their contrasting styles.

Scheinman sang solo during ‘The Littlest Prisoner’, after sharing harmonies earlier in the evening. Then producer (‘Small Source of Comfort') Colin Linden, wearing an over-sized fedora, and Celia Schacklett, who provided Americana-style harmonies, were called up to jam. Linden pulled out a slide which he spread across his vintage dobro. ‘Call Me Rose’ a bittersweet saga imagining Richard Nixon reincarnated as a poverty-stricken, single mom, was a nicely-done ensemble piece.

Cockburn talked about the horror of war, describing it as being “depressing and horrid” and asserting that nobody wins. Then, he played the iconic, ‘If I Had a Rocker Launcher’ and the gripping ‘Each One Lost’ about watching the bodies of soldiers being shipped home.

He told the mostly American audience that, in Canada, the press covers the beginnings and ends of war and reminded us that “these boys are our sons.” And, many of the post-hippies, who probably recalled the cold treatment given to the returning American soldiers, a phenomenon which Cockburn derided, seemed moved.

At that point, a solitary, emotional cry erupted from the audience. “Sgt. Tommy Gilbert, Downers Grove, Illinois.” The mood lightened as Cockburn led ‘Wondering where the Lions Are’ and many voices joined in.

After performing several encores, Cockburn ended with an old tune which he has used to end many other performances; ‘Gifts’ hearkens back to an earlier era, before Cockburn would make major judgments about our unpredictable world, but it was an excellent choice, making full-use of his deft instrumental abilities and rough-hewn, yet sonorous vocals.











Related Links:


http://brucecockburn.com/
https://en-gb.facebook.com/officialbrucecockburn/


Commenting On: Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, 22/5/2011 - Bruce Cockburn








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