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December 1, 2021
East Bay Express

Saying Out Loud: Legendary mucsicial looks back with release of ‘Bruce Cockburn - Greatest Hits’by Lou Fancher


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I was wrong. Having, in 2014, held Canadian singer/songwriter and guitarist Bruce Cockburn hostage in Berkeley’s Hillside Club during a nearly two-hour interview, previewed/attended his last Bay Area appearance in 2019, twice read cover-to-cover his 530-page memoir and found myself in a forever relationship with a Cockburn fan who, upon realizing he lacked one of the multi-award-winning artist’s 34 albums, was visibly distraught—I’d thought I’d heard every Cockburn story and tune there was to hear.

I told myself I’d tickled out the whys and wherefores behind poetic lyrics written with monk-like sparseness and music that embraces folk, jazz, blues, rock, world beat, Renaissance, Romantic and 21st-century classical-music styles. His work speaks to universal themes related to family, love, self-determination, spirituality and faith. I was “insider” enough to know Cockburn has, for five decades, been active and sings in bold protest to human-rights violations worldwide that include indigenous land exploitation, ecological devastation, corporate crimes, nuclear buildup, geopolitical and military conflicts, war and more. His albums have decorated Cockburn with 13 JUNO wins, two Hall of Fame inductions, multiple honorary Doctorates, positions such as Officer of The Order of Canada and a recent induction into Canada’s Walk of Fame.

So, on the occasion of his Dec. 3 double-album release of Bruce Cockburn – Greatest Hits (1970–2020), and in anticipation of his “second attempt” North American 50th Anniversary Concert Tour that was originally stalled by Covid-19 and includes live appearances in two shows Dec. 9-10 at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage, it was natural to expect mere updates and well-trodden repeats.

Instead, in response to a question about experiences that most shook him up or tilted his career and altered or affirmed his relationship to poetry, words and songwriting, Bay Area–based Cockburn tells me a brand-spanking-new story about his dad. The near-tears choking sound that enters his throat fleetingly at the very end of the story is pure Cockburn: it’s a sonority that’s not performative, overly sentimental or self-indulgent. It’s the real deal, expressed in language composed with raw sounds and abstract symbols, but deeply human, like his music.

“I had an experience with my dad,” Cockburn says. “He was at home, in Ottawa, and I’m in Boston [attending Berklee College of Music], and he came down at the end of the term to pick me up. We were talking about what we were going to do over the summer. I told him I’d got a summer job offer, but I turned it down. This is the truth; a guy was a friend of one of my dorm mates. He’d come back from Vietnam, and he had a plan to go down to Central America and make a lot of money over the summer, running guns to Cuba. He wanted to know if I’d go with him and watch his back. With hindsight, that’s the most ridiculous thing. It would have been suicide. At the time, I just thought it was an interesting thing to be offered. It seemed like it was going to be lucrative, but then I thought, ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’ My dad, he was horrified that I’d even consider it—[I’d be] basically facilitating people being killed. My dad had been in the Canadian army and didn’t see action during World War II, but he understood what was being talked about far better than I did. My response to him was, ‘What do you care about what I do anyway?’ I was a typical teenager. There was silence. Then he said, ‘Well, a father loves his son.’ I could say nothing. It was the first time I’d ever heard my father say the word ‘love.’ Nobody in my family ever said they loved each other. We did love each other, but nobody expressed it.”

Cockburn says hearing his dad say “love” out loud shocked him. “I’ll never forget that feeling. To use a crass expression, I didn’t know whether to shit or go blind. I had no place to put that,” he says. “I’m glad to have heard that from him, because it’s the only time I did and even then, he couldn’t say, ‘Well, I love you.’ He didn’t have the language, which is why we didn’t talk about those things. But he got to say what he said, and I got to hear it. It was indirectly life changing. I couldn’t tell you the exact effect, but it had to have made a difference.

Cockburn can’t—or won’t—pin down the difference made by this experience, but an outside observer could draw insight from his reticence. Cockburn has an edgy discomfort with words and their specificity. It strikes me that his lyrics are laid down as if they are secret scratchings that both point to, and cover up, the sacred truths buried within them. Even though his repertoire and his songwriting process depends on words, listeners must dig reflectively into their own hearts and minds to determine meanings and value.

All that makes Cockburn sound elusive or evasive or complicated, and although he expresses ambiguity when we talk about his albums, artistic process, music reviews and other matters, his life is largely relatable. He’s married to an attorney and grateful her steady work during the pandemic stabilized the family’s income. “Some of my income comes from royalties and other things, but the bulk comes from performing gigs,” he says. “Some of our friends are having much harder times. It’s inconvenient for everyone.” The couple also has a 10-year-old daughter. Cockburn says when she recently switched from him waking her up in the mornings, as was his custom, to now using a radio alarm, she told him, “I love music. I don’t know how I could live without music.” His response? “Hopefully you’ll never have to.” She studies guitar and piano, and despite not practicing, baffles him by improving. Which means he doesn’t worry about her music skills. Instead, he worries about her generation’s future.

“The pandemic’s not the only problem: That generation is facing the results of the whole 20th century and beyond,” he says. “They’re going to have quite a lot of trouble. We’re not setting a good precedent. Not in this country.” He names as his biggest concern the world’s dependence on oil. “It really started with the industrial revolution after World War II. Now it’s everything: it’s where we get our energy, our clothes, products in our homes. But [oil] is a finite supply, and it’s going away. We won’t get to Mars fast enough, and it’s unlikely Mars has oil, anyway. We’ll have to find an alternative. We need to go back to growing fibers to make clothes, which still happens somewhat; but increasingly, things are made out of polyester, nylon—and those are petroleum. I’m not trying to be a doomsayer, but the odds are we’ve created major problems that the next generation will have to deal with.”

We decided to lighten up and talk about his new CD. Curating the anniversary album and the set list for the tour, both spanning 50 years’ work, he says song selection took a mere 30 seconds. “It’s all singles that went to radio. There was no choosing involved.” Embarking on a solo tour was largely a matter of money and circumstance. “When we booked these shows everyone was enthusiastic, but nobody was sure if they would actually happen,” he says. “Nobody’s even sure now: We’re all acting like the shows are on. But who knows when there’ll be another lockdown? Fingers crossed!”

In the bank already are 30 songs written using what Cockburn calls “my standard fallback” approach. “I want to write about everything and anything that comes to mind,” he says. “There are things that come to you shaded, in a way that’s new to you. Encounters with art or a person can do that, too. I go around with the intention of being in a state of vigilance, waiting for those triggers. I write things down as I think of them. Sometimes a whole song is born quickly, and other times an idea seems good but has to wait decades for other elements to make it work. I go around harboring the intent.”

I ask him to jump onboard to comment on six tracks I’ve selected. About 1973’s All The Diamonds in the World, he says, “I think of it as marking the point I decided to self-identify as a Christian. The song for me belongs in a photo album commemorating that moment. I wrote it following the stress between me and my [ex-]wife. I found a degree of helplessness within myself to deal with the situation, the standard kind of stuff that happens between couples. I keenly felt my lack of self-sufficiency. I prayed, and the prayer was answered. It’s not written exactly about that, but it’s more a celebration of the fact the prayer was answered than about the issue itself. The setting is in a boat in the Stockholm archipelago. It was a beautiful day, and the sun sparkled on the water; it just set that song in motion. The feeling of what I’d experienced the night before, the prayer answered and the beauty of the day, just combined to produce that song.”

Rumours of Glory, written on the cusp of the 1980s, captured a scene in New York City’s East Village when the bleak, empty streets suddenly teemed with people leaving work. Twenty minutes later, everyone having dived underground into the subway system, the hubbub of life disappeared. The sunset cast the sky in pink; two contrails left by planes formed a cross in the sky. “It was too good to pass up,” he says.

In 1995, Pacing the Cage was a song a lot of people related to. “I certainly wasn’t thinking of this [Covid] trap when I wrote it, but it has resonance this time, for sure. It’s another song immediately triggered by a visual image,” he says. “I was living on a horse farm in Western Toronto. It was a situation that started out great, exciting; but it lost that luster in a big way. It’s not just about being in a domestic trap, but in yourself, in your habits and habits of mind. There’s a sense of suffocation that we all experience. The imagery; I turned into the driveway of the farm, and there was a sunset that looked like an angel weeping and holding a bloody sword. There was the song, right there. I didn’t have to make anything up. Seeing it: that’s the trick. It doesn’t feel like trickery; when it happens, it feels like a gift. Not everyone has it, nor do I, so when I get it, it’s precious.”

Anything Anytime Anywhere (1992) is a straight-ahead love song with unusual origins. “The title and phrase actually came from a want ad in Soldier of Fortune magazine,” he says. “The magazine is a kind of fashion magazine for mercenary wannabes. In the ’80s, when the U.S. government was telling us there were no wars in Central America, you could open up Soldier of Fortune and read accounts written by soldiers fighting there. It was enlightening in that sense. It was common to see ads for military people looking for work: they were willing to do anything, anytime, anywhere. In a love context, it felt like what you can ask: You can ask me for anything, anytime, anywhere.”

One song on the new CD is a happy accident. Instead of the 1973 solo version, a recording made in 1987 of a live concert has Cockburn singing “Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long” with the late Kathryn Moses. “Somebody goofed, and the record was mastered with that version,” he says. “We could have corrected it, but it seemed like it was meant to happen, because Kathy Moses died last year of cancer. It seemed fitting she be on the record. I’m glad the mistake was made.”

Cockburn says he hopes his music has and will always speak the truth and draw enough attention to become a medium for sharing, for human exchange—then backtracks with, “it’s safe to say it’s always the best I can do at the time.” He finds music reviews, even self-administered ones, troublesome. “Passing judgement—we all do it, I do it—but I don’t want to inflict it on anyone else,” he says. “It’s better to let people figure it out for themselves. Once in a while, over the centuries, I’ve actually read one or two reviews that taught me something. Mostly, they’re just a guy’s or a woman’s opinion, and I don’t even feel I was at the same show.”

While first discovering jazz, Cockburn bought albums based on DownBeat magazine reviews. Eventually, he realized he and the reviewers liked the albums, but for different reasons. “I also remember a big controversy in the ’60s in DownBeat magazine, about whether or not you could have jazz written in 3/4 time. The musicians are playing it, and it’s the reviewers who are going, ‘This isn’t jazz,’ and another saying, ‘Oh, yes it is.’ It was a stupid thing: If a guy is playing jazz in 3/4 time, what’s it to you? It’s an example of what’s wrong with the institution of reviewing. It’s all very subjective … so, actually, it’s nice not to be reviewed.”

We touch on four new songs produced during the pandemic. “Those songs I wanted to get out, because two of the four are particularly applicable to what I feel is going on,” he says. “I don’t talk about Covid; though one of the songs mentions Covid, in passing. One of them is called ‘Orders.’ The chorus is a list of all kinds of people and behaviors we may or may not approve of. The chorus goes: ‘Our orders said to love them all.’ Another song is called ‘Us All’: It’s a plea to be kind to each other. It seemed to me those songs should be out there being heard. The other new songs are more like all of the rest of the stuff I do. Just Cockburn songs.”

Hopefully, when he writes a few more—he has almost enough songs for a new CD—Cockburn’s next album will be accompanied by another never-before-heard story. A tale filled with mystery and ambiguity; love, pathos and pain; and words destined to be infused with melody.


November 30, 2021
Making A Scene 

Bruce Cockburn Greatest Hits (1970-2020), True  North Records
by Jim Hynes


This may be the first time this writer has ever given ink to a greatest hits album, but my guess is that there are not many of us thinking of Bruce Cockburn, one of the most indelible voices of early non-commercial FM radio in the ‘80s, these days. This career-spanning collection serves to remind us of what an amazing songwriter Cockburn was and still is. What’s more is that the 30 songs in this double disc set are curated by Cockburn chronologically (when he wrote them, not when they appeared on record), revealing the evolution of his style. He also provides some quick hitting anecdotes in the liners.

This is not to infer that Cockburn has been under-recognized. Quite the contrary – he has amassed 13 JUNO wins, two Hall of Fame Inductions, countless honorary Doctorates, Officer of The Order of Canada, and a new inductee into Canada’s Walk of Fame this year. Instead, this to jog memories or perhaps bring some new listeners who weren’t around during Cockburn’s peak so that both can appreciate the directness, the poetic cadences, and both the beauty and fearlessness of his writing. The first to catch my attention was “Wondering Where The Lions Are” from his 1979 album Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws, about which he says, “The sun was bright. The sky was blue. Russia and China were not having a nuclear war. The lions in the dream were safely distant and regally beautiful, but they were out The straight-ahead tale, “The Coldest Night of the Year” along with “Waiting for a Miracle” are arguably his two best songs, gems in every possible way. Toward the end of Disc One we get a series of his scathing political songs, the artist from The North pointing the way for the screwed-up U.S. politics and foreign policies he was witnessing from Toronto. About “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” he says, “Environmental degradation, economic and political instability, the AIDS epidemic—what kind of world were the kids growing up into? And now?”  He likens the caustic “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” to the game maker RPG, chronicling two jungle camps on the Guatemalan border. These are followed by two more acidic commentaries: “Call It Democracy” and “People See Through You,” with this essaying the latter, “Reagan’s America, CIA church break-ins, a magazine ad for a t-shirt with a graphic of a US Marine towering over tiny, kneeling peasant figures and the caption: “USMC -stabilizing the third world through conquest.”

If the political fare is not appealing to you, you can still appreciate the beauty of songs such as “Waiting for a Miracle,” “Stolen Land,” or “If a Tree Falls.”  Ah, there are plenty of political overtones in those too. So, maybe for you it’s the ‘90s during the T-Bone Burnett producer period, resulting in such nuggets as “A Dream Like Mine” and “Listen for the Laugh.”

Colin Linden, who along with Cockburn Bernie Finkelstein produced the set, took the producer helm in mid-‘90s and collaborated with Cockburn on such songs as “Pacing the Cage,” “Last Night of the World” and has his hand in the last two songs – “Call Me Rose” (2005) and “States I’m In” (2016), markedly different from Cockburn’s ‘80s output but terrific songs nonetheless, proving that the bard from The North hasn’t lost his knack.   If for nostalgic reasons or better yet, to appreciate masterful songwriting, this one is well worth your while.



November 2, 2021
Blues Rock Review

Bruce Cockburn Interview
by Bob Gersztyn


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Bruce Cockburn is a singer songwriter that is cross between Phil Ochs and Robert Johnson. Lyrically his compositions are politically and spiritually charged with driving hook-laden melodies while they are delivered using stellar guitar accompaniment. Cockburn is one of those performers that can entertain audiences equally as well with either an electric guitar and full band or solo with only an acoustic guitar. Musically he is a guitar virtuoso with a baritone voice that has mesmerized his fans for five decades. His songs cover a gamut of subjects ranging from politics and human rights to the environment and religion. His extraordinary guitar playing prowess covers a range of styles from jazz and finger picking country blues to hard rock with feedback laden guitar solos. Over the past five decades, he’s released over two dozen studio albums of original compositions and entertained audiences around the world. His travels through Central America along with Europe and Asia as far as Tibet during the 1980s gave him the subject matter for some of his best songs. At 76 years of age, he is still going strong, and prior to embarking on a concert tour beginning in December, “True North Records” is releasing a 30 song double CD of Bruce Cockburn’s Greatest Hits (1970-2020). Blues Rock Review talked to Bruce about his upcoming tour and delved into the message of his music.

How did you choose the 30 songs on your upcoming Greatest Hits (1970 – 2020)?

They are all singles. It’s a bit of an exaggeration I’d say but they were all songs that we would have liked to have been hits and some of them actually were. They are all the singles that were fired in the direction of radio.

I’m very familiar with your work because I’ve been following you since 1980 and have just about all your albums so I know that even if all of them weren’t radio hits they are the ones that stand out.

Among them certainly are the songs that people have kind of embraced more than others so we can use the term hits metaphorically. Some of those songs were not particularly noticed, others were, and some of them were noticed in certain regions and others in other regions and that kind of thing. So some of them like “Rocket Launcher,” “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” among others got significant national attention so that made them obvious. So basically it’s all the songs that had been singles and I think that we left one out that we intended to include.

What are your favorite three out of the thirty?

“Night Train” is one of my favorites of the songs I’ve written along with “All the Diamonds in the World” and “Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long.” Those are always songs that I liked to play myself the whole way along and not just to record or perform but myself, “I’m able to relate to those songs over and over, and over and over again. They’re the ones that stand out in my mind. “Going to the Country” I think stands up pretty well. It’s hard to pick favorites really.

“Mama Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long” is an obviously blues driven composition. What blues artists over the years have inspired you? 

Back in the day, many I mean, I listen to less blues stuff now than I did when I was learning to play guitar, learning to fingerpick let’s say because I already knew how to play guitar when I discovered that music when I was introduced to it, but really the people who influenced me as a guitar player were Brownie McGhee, Mississippi John Hurt, Mance Lipscomb, and country blues generally even though Brownie is not necessarily country blues. It was the folk blues that you could hear in the 1960s that was a very strong influence on me. There was Blind Willie Johnson but you wouldn’t hear him in my guitar playing. I don’t play like him at all but as an inspiration, he’s right up there. It was those guys kind of mixed with jazz players that I listened to a lot that really shaped the way I play guitar.

Like Django Reinhardt?

No, not like Django Reinhardt but Wes Montgomery and Gabor Szabo. Django was a brilliant player and I loved his music but it wasn’t an influence on me particularly with the exception of the tune called “Lulosabat” from the mid 1970s. The early 1970s, that kind of self consciously swingy style but it’s not Django style, it’s just basically the structure of the tune or reminiscent of that. But no, the guitar players that interested me were in the jazz world more. The guys that were sort of interesting in the 1960s when I was really getting into that music. As I said there was Wes Montgomery and Gabor Szabo who a lot of people don’t know about him but he’s really great. When I encountered him he was playing with the “Chico Hamilton Quintet.” Sometimes a quartet and sometimes a quintet and they made three albums with that configuration. They are brilliant records and Charles Lloyd’s compositions shaped my sense of music to a great degree too but Gabor Szabo’s playing on those records is really brilliant. His own records, he made a couple under his own name that are not as interesting. They kind of give you a taste of what he was doing and I heard him live with Chico Hamilton but I kind of wish I could have heard him live as himself because I think that what is hinted at on his records would have been really great live but they didn’t quite catch it. Those three albums from the early to mid-1960s were really great. You can find them and one was called Man From Two Worlds that are under Chico Hamilton’s name and there’s one called A Different Journey, it’s a really good one.

He’s probably the biggest single influence on my jazz playing but I listened to everybody. John Abercrombie was a classmate of mine at Berklee and I got to watch him play up close. There were all kinds of people around. I’ve always been drawn towards wanting to do something like everything I hear that I like. So if I listen to a “Bartok String Quartet” I want to do something just like that. If I listen to Robert Wilkens singing “I Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down” I want to do something just like that. It was just the way that I was sort of built. In the case of the Robert Wilkens’s song, I actually learned the song and I’m capable of performing that but that is not true of “Bartok String Quartets.” When these influences come in sometimes they’re pretty audible, most of the time they’re kind of mixed in with all kinds of other influences so it’s not so obvious.

Are you going to be performing solo or with a band on your upcoming tour?

These will be solo shows.

So it will be you and an acoustic guitar?

Pretty much me and a couple of different ones.

In 1983 when you wrote “The Trouble With Normal” on the album of the same name, it had a line about “the planet lurching to the right,” It seems like it’s lurching more towards the left now. How do you see it? 

I think the opposite, I think it is lurching even more to the right. I think that’s what all the populist crap is about. That’s what the anti-vaxxers are about. It’s not across the board and you may be right because what I see as a swing to the right may produce a backlash that will bring a more socialist view in popularity but I just see everywhere that I look around the globe at these would be dictators rousing their populations against somebody, against minorities, against refugees, against something else and it seems to be global so I don’t think that it’s going to the left.

Do you think that the policies from back when you wrote “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” in the early 1980s contributed towards the situation going on today with the mass immigration into the US? 

I think it’s simplistic to try and put just one cause to it but I think from the ’80s and earlier. From the 50s really onwards through the ’80s have had an effect that we’re feeling now, that’s for sure, certainly with respect to Central America. Other parts of the world I know less about.

Who would you aim your rocket launcher at today?

Well, I’m not really looking for anybody to aim. It was a reaction to a situation at the time and I hope that I never find myself in a comparable situation. Who do I think represents a major threat to the United States and to the world? There’s quite a long list of them actually and they are the people that think money is more important than life, especially other people’s lives. They’re steering us in a very bad direction. I don’t know how we’re going to deal with that all but you can’t take one issue or even a set of issues and isolate them and say we can focus on this to the exclusion of other things. So you can’t say that climate change is the big issue facing us. It might be the most dire one that is threatening on the larger scale but along with that goes the trend away from democratic values. I think people are afraid and when people are afraid they want to make everything simple and have somebody else make choices for them and tell them it’s okay. We’re seeing a lot of that around and to some extent, that fear is caused by climate change but it’s also the pandemic, it’s also all the conspiracy theories. It’s just around and just like the cliché the only thing you have to fear is fear itself. It’s not exactly that simple but certainly if we could get past testing our surroundings and the things that come at us in terms of fear we would have a better chance of dealing with those things.

One of your most popular songs is “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” from that same time period. Are we now living in a less, the same or more dangerous time? 

Somewhere in the world, it’s always dangerous. I don’t know if it’s more dangerous now. I think that we’re getting closer and closer to it. I believe in the science that I’ve been exposed to that says we are getting closer and closer to an irreversible tipping point in respect to environmental conditions. The environmental conditions that we’re familiar with are essential to life as we know it and that’s pretty dangerous. I don’t know if you can get more dangerous than that. We haven’t lost any of the other stuff. We still have diseases that ravage us. We still have the threat of nuclear war. Nobody talks about it but it’s still there. We still have an endless number of threats that we’ve created ourselves. So it’s at least as dangerous, certainly not less dangerous but like I said, I think that anybody’s time is dangerous if you look at the things that threaten.

In the song “A Dream Like Mine” you talk about walking with the power of a thousand generations. What did you mean by that?  

I was thinking of the revivalists is kind of what you would call it sort of, the revival of moral among indigenous people. I mean that is what that song is about, what I had seen myself. When I first became acquainted with people from that background in the early 1970s you could see what had happened, you could see the demoralization that had been inflicted on them partly by design, partly by the flow of history. You could see the negative effect of stuff like the residential schools and so on has had but you could also see that people were coming out from under that and my generation, my contemporaries that I was meeting really had this great sense of pride and who they were and a sense of identification with the best of their history. That to me was exciting to see and very, a dumb kind of word, but heartwarming. The song came along a little bit later than that but it was written and intended to be part of a film score. To be the main theme of the music that was made of the same name. Originally it was going to be of the same name which was based on a book of the same name, a Canadian novel about a kind of archetypal native spirit character warrior who comes back to life. He walks out of a lake at the beginning of the book and he’s not a very nice guy actually but quite a ferocious person but he represents that warrior spirit coming back. I got the idea from the title of the book and reading the book and then just as a flow. As it turned out the director of the film didn’t like my ideas. So I ended up not doing the music for the film but the song was there anyway. I thought it was good actually and I was happy to get it.

When Jerry Garcia was alive the Dead used to perform your song “Waiting For a Miracle.” Did you like their version? 

I was really glad they did it. I wish that Jerry got the words right.

A miracle for a “Deadhead” was a free ticket to the concert.

There are many kinds of miracles.

Before we conclude the interview is there anything that you would like to talk about that you feel is important to you at the present.

Not especially but I’m really looking forward to doing these shows that are coming up and I’m really hoping they happen. We’re all carrying on, on the assumption that they will happen but given the situation, we’re all in you can’t take anything for granted. So I’m itching to get out there and play these songs for people.

Concerts have been happening and hopefully they will continue.

If we don’t get another big wave of COVID I think they’ll happen for sure. The big unknown, of course, is whether or not and it’s only a month away now, more or less before they start so as it gets closer the odds get better of everything working.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us and I look forward to seeing you when you come to Portland. Have a good rest of your day.

You too, thank you. I appreciate your interest.


October 18, 2021
True  North Records

BRUCE COCKBURN RELEASES CAREER-SPANNING GREATEST HITS (1970-2020) ON DECEMBER 3, 2021

Inducted into Canada’s Walk Of Fame on December 4, 2021

 

Pre-Order Link

With 34 previous releases, 13 JUNO wins, two Hall of Fame inductions, countless honorary Doctorates, Officer of The Order of Canada — and new inductee into Canada’s Walk of Fame this year — all spanning a 50+ year career — it’s no small task to encapsulate Bruce Cockburn’s inimitable imprint when it comes to Canadian music and culture. But his newly announced double-album release, Bruce Cockburn Greatest Hits (1970 - 2020), is a good place to start.

Curated by Bruce Cockburn and set for release December 3rd, 2021 via True North Records, this definitive collection meticulously corrals the acclaimed singer/songwriter’s most favoured tracks — from songs that shot to the top of the charts upon release, to long-lauded fan-favourites requested on tour, time and time again.

Expect to settle in for a chronological journey from the legendary artist’s earliest offerings, to today; curated by Cockburn himself, the hand-picked selection of 30 songs revisit works from 1970 to 2020, and are accompanied by exclusive notes from the artist.

MEDIA ADVISORY

“In 1969, when I was feeling the need to record an album of the songs I’d been writing, I had no concept of what that might lead to,” Cockburn shares. “Not unusual for a young person, I guess...

“In some organic way, it felt like it was ‘time.’ The future wasn’t really an issue. It still isn’t. For each of us, there’s a future or there isn’t.

“But looking back over the arc of fifty years of recording, performing, and travel — not to mention, relationships and personal challenges — I can only shake my head and mutter a word of thanks for all of it. Even if I’d been a planner by nature, I doubt I could have predicted how things have gone.

“And they’re still going!”

The release lands ahead of Cockburn’s “2nd Attempt” North American tour for his 50th Anniversary Concert, previously stymied by Covid restrictions.

Bruce Cockburn’s Greatest Hits (1970 - 2020) is available December 3rd, 2021 via True North Records.

TOUR DATES HERE


October 2021
Canada’s Walk of Fame

For 50 years, this Canadian musical legend has been capturing in song the essence of human experience – while fiercely striving to make it better.

2019 bruce cockburn by daniel keebler

One of Canada’s finest artists, Bruce Cockburn has enjoyed an illustrious career shaped by politics, spirituality, and musical diversity. His remarkable journey has seen him embrace folk, jazz, rock, and worldbeat styles while travelling to such far-flung places as Guatemala, Mali, Mozambique, and Nepal, and writing memorable songs about his ever-expanding world of wonders. “My job,” he explains, “is to try and trap the spirit of things in the scratches of pen on paper and the pulling of notes out of metal.”

That scratching and pulling has earned Cockburn high praise as an exceptional songwriter and a revered guitarist. His songs of romance, protest, and spiritual discovery are among the best to have emerged from Canada over the last 50 years. His guitar playing, both acoustic and electric, has placed him in the company of the world’s top instrumentalists. And he remains deeply respected for his activism on issues from native rights and land mines to the environment and Third World debt, working for organizations such as Oxfam, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and Friends of the Earth.

Throughout his career, Cockburn has deftly captured the joy, pain, fear, and faith of human experience in song. Whether singing about retreating to the country or going up against chaos, tackling imperialist lies or embracing ecclesiastical truths, he has always expressed a tough yet hopeful stance: to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight. “We can’t settle for things as they are,” he once warned. “If you don’t tackle the problems, they’re going to get worse.”

For his many achievements, the Ottawa-born artist has been honoured with 13 Juno Awards, an induction into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, as well as the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, and has been made an Officer of the Order of Canada. But he never rests on his laurels. “I’d rather think about what I’m going to do next,” says Cockburn. “My models for graceful aging are guys like John Lee Hooker and Mississippi John Hurt, who never stop working till they drop, as I fully expect to be doing, and just getting better as musicians and as human beings.”

His commitment to growth has made Bruce Cockburn both an exemplary citizen and a legendary artist whose prized songbook will be celebrated for many years to come.


October 6, 2021
ET Canada

Keanu Reeves, Bruce Cockburn, Bret Hart Among 2021 Inductees Into Canada’s Walk Of Fame
By Brent Furdyk


Canada’s Walk of Fame has revealed its 2021 inductees, unveiling an eclectic list of 10 prestigious Canadians from various walks of life.

“This year’s class of outstanding Canadians are recognized not only for their distinctive accomplishments and successes but for their philanthropy, advocacy, and contributions toward the greater good,” notes the Walk of Fame announcement.

Inductees and honourees will be celebrated at the Annual Canada’s Walk of Fame Awards Gala at Toronto’s Beanfield Centre on Dec. 4, 2021, with a TV special to be broadcast in December.

The 2021 Canada’s Walk of Fame Inductees are:

  • Ajay Virmani (Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy)
  • Bret “The Hitman” Hart (Sports and Athletics)
  • Bruce Cockburn (Arts and Entertainment)
  • Damian Warner (Sports and Athletics)
  • Frederick Banting, Charles Best, John Macleod, James Collip (Science, Technology and Innovation)
  • Graham Greene (Arts and Entertainment):
  • Jully Black (Arts and Entertainment)
  • Keanu Reeves (Arts and Entertainment)
  • Lieutenant-General (ret) The Honourable Roméo A. Dallaire (Humanitarianism)
  • Salome Bey (Arts and Entertainment – Legend)

In addition, the 2021 Canada’s Walk of Fame honourees are:

  • Serena Ryder – Allan Slaight Music Impact Honour
  • Laurent Duvernay-Tardif – National Hero Honour


September 25, 2021
Winnipeg Free Press

Bruce Cockburn - A musical, spiritual inspiration
by John Longhurst


I’ve been a Bruce Cockburn fan since the 1970s. Songs like If I Had a Rocket Launcher, Call It Democracy, The Trouble With Normal and If a Tree Falls gave voice to my concerns about injustice, poverty and the environment.

Songs about his Christian faith — like Rumours of Glory, Lord of the Starfields, Sunwheel Dance and Festival of Friends — encouraged me in my own faith.

So when I got a chance to interview the Juno Award-winning singer and songwriter a week ago, I was both nervous and delighted to talk to one of my musical heroes.

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The conversation was sparked when I learned he had returned to church after a 40-year absence.

During that time, Cockburn never stopped believing in God. But he grew apart from church after he moved to Toronto in the 1980s.

"I never found a church in Toronto that felt like home to me," he said. "I just kind of stopped going."

Now living in San Francisco with his wife and daughter, he started attending church again at the urging of his wife who was going to the Lighthouse Church in that California city.

At first he was reluctant, but finally gave in. The first Sunday he was "blown away" by the love and acceptance he felt from the congregation. "They didn’t know me, but love filled the room," he said, adding "It felt like the church I was waiting for."

Not only did he start attending again; he also joined the worship band.

"They needed a guitar player, so they were foolish enough to ask me," he said. "It’s a meaningful way for me to participate."

As for his faith now — where is he at?

"It’s a continuing journey," he said. "I don’t feel I have the corner on understanding anything. I just have a desire to have a relationship with God, a day-to-day thing."

While he doesn’t have "any hesitation" identifying as a Christian, he’s starting to wonder if that’s such a good thing to say in public these days now that some parts of Christianity in the U.S. are linked to Donald Trump, right-wing politics and anti-vaccination.

If someone asks if he’s a Christian, he still says yes — "but not one of those," he said. "Yes, I’m a Christian, but I got vaccinated."

Of the polarization in the U.S., he said "Things are really bad here." The term "liberal," has become "an epithet," he said, quickly adding he can be tempted to see conservatives negatively, too.

"When I think of Republicans, I have to tell myself not to think of stereotypical knee jerk images that come up," he said.

He wishes things weren’t like that. "It’s just politics," he said. "We should be able to discuss all the things that concern us and find solutions rather than forming tribes and fighting each other."

When asked about where his songs come from, the winner of 13 Juno Awards said they are gifts that "come from God."

"I still have to filter it," he said, adding "Unfortunately, that means God is stuck with me as a filter."

Winnipeg singer-songwriter Steve Bell is also a big Bruce Cockburn fan. "He changed my life," he said.

Until he heard Cockburn’s music, Bell thought Christian music could only be didactic with straightforward lyrics — like musical sermons that needed no explanation and had no room for interpretation.

But Cockburn’s use of poetry and metaphors in his songs required listeners to "dig into" the lyrics to find their meaning, Bell said.

"He wasn’t evangelistic. It was like he was leaving a trail for us to follow, in a melody and a poem," he said. "I was immediately intrigued by him. That was so foreign to me."

Cockburn’s protest songs and songs about social justice also opened new avenues of expression, Bell shared. "That really resonated with me. He was like a thundering desert prophet."

Bell, who went on to create an album of Cockburn cover songs called My Dinner With Bruce, remembers going to his first Cockburn concert.

"When I walked in, my universe was small," he said. "When I walked out, it was huge. He broke open my world. It was almost like a conversion experience."

As for Cockburn’s faith, "it’s always been important to me to have some kind of relationship with God," he told me. "I think that should be the centre of everyone’s life. I’ve tried to keep it at the centre of mine.

Photo by: Nathan Denette


July 26, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Bruce Cockburn Gets Back On The Road
Mark Pucci Media


ATLANTA, GA - We’re all so happy to announce that Bruce Cockburn is getting back on the road with live concert tour dates starting in December, 2021.

Bruce’s last live concert show was November 23, 2019, in Monterey California at the Golden State Theatre.

Here’s what Bruce has to say about getting back on the road: “As 2020 rolled up on the horizon, it was shaping up to be an exciting year — the fiftieth anniversary of the release of my first album. A considerable number of shows had been booked. The expectation was that much of the year would be spent on tour in celebration of that first step into what has been a pretty interesting professional life. 

“My expectations, like everyone else’s, took a big hit from the pandemic and all that has gone with it. That “Big 50th” was not to be!

“Now, as we poke our heads up to see where this past year-and-a-bit has brought us to, I’m getting excited again about getting out and sharing my songs with all who will do me the honor of listening — in actual rooms! With people who are physically present! The 50th Anniversary Tour: 2nd Attempt…May we all stay safe and functional so it can happen!”

Here are Bruce’s first confirmed dates, with more to follow:

 

DEC          7                             GRASS VALLEY CA         CENTER FOR THE ARTS

DEC          8                             SANTA CRUZ CA              RIO THEATRE

DEC          9                             BERKELEY CA                  FREIGHT & SALVAGE

DEC        10                             BERLELEY CA                   FREIGHT & SALVAGE

DEC        12                             EUGENE OR                      SORENG THEATER

DEC        13                             BEND OR                           TOWER THEATRE

DEC        14                             GRANTS PASS OR            ROGUE THEATRE

DEC        16                             PORTLAND OR                  ALADDIN THEATER

DEC        17                             PORTLAND OR                  ALADDIN THEATER

DEC        18                             SPOKANE OR                    BING CROSBY THEATER

DEC        19                             SEATTLE WA                      NEPTUNE THEATRE                                   

FEB         24                             BURLINGTON VT               HIGHER GROUND

FEB         25                             ALBANY NY                       THE EGG

FEB         26                             NORTHAMPTON MA         ACADEMY OF MUSIC

FEB         27                             BOSTON MA                      WILBUR THEATRE

MAR          1                            WATERVILLE ME               OPERA HOUSE

MAR          2                            FALL RIVER MA                 CENTRE FOR THE ARTS

MAR          4                            RIDGEFIELD CT                 RIDGEFIELD PLAYHOUSE

MAR          5                            NEWTON NJ                       NEWTON THEATRE

MAR          6                            NEW YORK NY                   SYMPHONY SPACE

MAR          8                            ANN ARBOR MI                  THE ARK

MAR         10                           CHICAGO IL                        OLDTOWN SCHOOL OF FOLK

MAR         11                           CHICAGO IL                        OLDTOWN SCHOOK OF FOLK

MAR         12                           MADISON WI                       BARRYMORE THEATRE

MAR         13                           IOWA CITY IA                      ENGLERT THEATRE

APR          19                           PETERBOROUGH ON       SHOWPLACE CENTRE

APR          21                           KITCHENER ON                 CENTRE IN THE SQUARE

APR          22                           TORONTO ON                    MASSEY HALL

APR          23                           OTTAWA ON                       NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE    

For on-sale ticket information please check in your local market. 


June 17, 2021
The Times Colonist

Bruce Cockburn joins Victoria's Gettin' Higher Choir for Mozambique relief concert
by Mike Devlin

What: Voices Rising: a Fundraiser for Mozambique
Where: Zoom or YouTube
When: June 19, 7 p.m.
Tickets: Free (donations accepted)


The news Tuesday that signaled the return of live events with in-person audiences of up to 50 socially distanced people is good news for everyone — the Gettin’ Higher Choir included. But it won’t help choir directors Cathy Baker and Dick Jackson bring Voices Rising: a Fundraiser for Mozambique to audiences on Saturday.

That’s because filming for the concert has already taken place, which made it possible for Baker and Jackson to gather nearly 80 participants into a virtual cast of singers and musicians for the 23rd annual event. In this rare instance, limitations put in place to combat the pandemic actually helped the Gettin’ Higher Choir create, through video-conferencing platform Flock, a massive project several months in the making.

“Our participation, locally, has shrunk, because there are some people who aren’t into singing to the computer,” Baker said of the congregation, which grew exponentially on Zoom during the pandemic to include friends of friends and family in faraway places. “We’ve been able to reach people from as far away as Chicago and Tokyo and Whitehorse. Zoom has made it so wonderfully inclusive. There is a whole lot of networking that is happening online.”

One of those singers, who is from Delhi, India, contributed a recording of her singing in Bengali for use in the upcoming fundraiser, which will combine both live and pre-recorded segments. Juno Award-winner Bruce Cockburn will also perform at Voices Rising, and has recorded a 30-minute set that will air during the two-hour online fundraiser for Mozambique.

“We were crazy enough to call up his manager and put a proposal to him,” Jackson said. “I guess it hit him at the right time, and he said yes very quickly.”

That isn’t altogether surprising: Cockburn has worked extensively with relief organizations and charities in support of the African country, including a consortium of Canadian development agencies with whom he travelled to Mozambique in 1995. He wrote The Coming Rains and Mines of Mozambique about his trip, which is why his presence at a concert raising money for schools and scholarship programs in Mozambique, through Victoria charity the Caia Connection, is so meaningful.

Cockburn’s participation seemed to galvanize the project. Cockburn met the Mozambican refugee couple who started the charity backstage at one of his shows in Victoria 20 years ago, and musicians from the Caia district of Mozambique will perform Saturday as the Caia Connection aims to raise $20,000 in donations for solar power, water and food security projects in the area.

“It has been so great to make so many connections with so many people, thanks to this crazy pandemic,” Jackson said.

The choir’s last in-person rehearsal was on March 10, 2020. Since then, the number of participating members has been cut in half, from 100 to 50, with all rehearsals occurring online during the past 15 months. The hope is that regular rehearsals at the Church of Truth will resume in the fall, which would allow the choir to host hybrid performances before the year is out.

A portion of the singers in the same room, singing in unison, would be a small but important step forward on the journey back to normalcy, Baker said.

“There’s an amazing sense of community amongst people who come together to sing songs. People loved continuing to gather through Zoom, it was kind of a lifeline for folks.”


June 14, 2021
Now Toronto

Massey Hall is reopening in November and 40 concerts are already scheduled-
Folk icon Gordon Lightfoot will help bring the historic venue back to life after three years of massive renovations 

by Richard Trapunski


Massey Hall is ready to raise its curtains for the first time in three years.

The historic 127-year-old Toronto venue has been closed since 2018, unrelated to the pandemic – part of a major restoration that will integrate it into a multi-stage music complex called Allied Music Centre.

In November 2021, pandemic-pending, Massey Hall will come roaring back to life. There are already close to 40 shows announced.

The first concert will be played by the artist most associated with the venue – Gordon Lightfoot. The Canadian folk icon will play three shows from November 25-27.

There are handful of other big-event shows scheduled, too. On December 16, Broken Social Scene will celebrate their 20th anniversary on the stage. Andy Kim will bring his annual special-guest-filled Christmas variety show back on December 8. There will be a New Year’s Eve comedy show – a longtime Massey Hall tradition – hosted by Steve Patterson.

The stage is very meaningful to Canadian musicians, and there are a lot of them playing. Some highlights include Jann Arden, City & Colour, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Choir! Choir! Choir!, Tanya Tagaq, Cowboy Junkies, Mavis Staples, Bruce Cockburn, Donovan Woods, Sarah Harmer and more.

There will also be rescheduled shows from artists like Courtney Barnett, Buddy Guy and Serena Ryder & William Prince.

Viewers of the Juno Awards already got a sneak peek of the renovations when Feist joined The Tragically Hip on the Massey Hall stage for a performance during the broadcast.

Tickets for sale via Massey Hall.

[Bruce’s play Massey Hall on April 22, 2022- DK]



May 24, 2021
Bruce will be participating in this benefit concert. More information here.

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The Gettin’ Higher Choir is delighted to announce that their next online benefit concert will take place June 19 at 7pm PDT, and will feature renowned songwriter, guitarist, compassionate humanitarian and activist, Bruce Cockburn. Also, for the first time, we will welcome collaboration with musicians from the Caia district of Mozambique, for this our 23rd annual concert to support development projects in that region.



Bruce in San Francisco - April 2021





April 27, 2021
Exclaim!

Bruce Cockburn Reflects on Barenaked Ladies' "Fresh and Interesting" Version of "Lovers in a Dangerous Time
by Alex Hudson

Bruce Cockburn's 1984 hit "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" was inspired by the Cold War, but it's sadly an evergreen song — one that resonates more than ever in the past year, amidst a pandemic, social uprisings and political upheaval.

It was also keenly relevant in 1991, when then-up-and-upcoming folk rock group Barenaked Ladies recorded a cover for a Cockburn tribute album, Kick at the Darkness. It was BNL's first-ever charting single, reaching 16 on the Canadian Singles Chart — and the band appropriately released a quarantine rendition last March, during the first phase of coronavirus lockdown.

Exclaim! caught up with Cockburn to find out what he thinks about BNL's beloved cover of "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" — and he also shared his thoughts on the new resonance that his song has taken on over the years. Watch videos for both versions of the tune at the bottom of the page.

How did you first hear that Barenaked Ladies were covering "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," and what was your reaction?

I first heard about it from Bernie Finkelstein. Stuart Ravenhill, my former tour manager, was a partner in a new record label whose name I forget. They decided it would be a good idea to release a tribute album of my songs done by various up-and-coming Toronto artists. I knew some of them but others were new to me. I knew Barenaked Ladies by reputation, but as far as I can recall had not yet met them. 

What do you think of BNL's version of the song? Are there any elements that particularly stand out to you?

I was not involved in the making of the record in any way. I had no idea what people would do. When I first heard "Lovers," I was a bit shocked by how different the Ladies' treatment of the song was musically from how I had conceived of it. It took a bit of getting used to. Once I got over that, I was glad that they had taken their own distinctive road with it. It was fresh and interesting. 

Have you ever met the members of BNL? What were the circumstances, and did you discuss this song at all?

I've spent time with the band on several occasions. We've performed the song on stage together numerous times, both my version and theirs. 

How do you feel about the enduring resonance of "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," particularly in today's fraught political climate and throughout the pandemic? I'm not sure if you're aware, but someone made a coronavirus-themed karaoke video for the song.

Sadly, I think the song is all too appropriate to these circumstances we find ourselves in. Others seem to agree. It has received a fair amount of attention in the online world over the past year. I'm glad the song is getting around, but sorry it's because of the crap we're in. 

BNL's cover of "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" comes from a 1991 tribute album, Kick at the Darkness, which is made up entirely of covers of your songs. Are there any other covers of your music that particularly stand out to you — either from that tribute album, or other cover version you might have heard over the years?

Over the years a lot of artists have seen fit to record my songs. Some have been great, and it's always an honour. It's always a compliment. The whole point of writing the things is to have them be heard. When people want to record them it feels good!

Bruce: Lover's In A Dangerous Time

Bare Naked Ladies: Lover's In A Dangerous Time


April 22, 2021
From Bruce

A few years ago I found myself attending a worship service at San Francisco Lighthouse. For the preceding couple of decades I had been operating on the assumption that the formal church and I had grown apart, so in a way it was a surprise to be there and feel as though it was where I was meant to be. That occasion led to an ongoing relationship with SFL — fools that they were, they let me play in the band!

In this COVID year, with no public opportunity to introduce new songs, and since I have a few new songs, it seemed like they could be put out for people to hear in a way that would at once benefit the church and satisfy my need to be noticed. 

Any revenue generated by this exercise will go to support SFL and its work, which includes, among other things, support for programs for unhoused people in San Francisco, and for Lighthouse Kathmandu, a Nepali-run organization dedicated to fighting human trafficking and rescuing its victims. 

Thanks for checking in. I hope you enjoy the songs!

Bruce

The video will go live on May 2, 2021. To watch the performances and to find out more about donating to this cause, GO HERE. The San Francisco Lighthouse Church has information at their website as well. -Daniel



March 12, 2021

CI-session-2019-keebler

Crowing Ignites has been nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award for best traditional album of the year. The nominees in this category are:

All Hands by Beòlach
Bet On Love by Pharis & Jason Romero
Crowing Ignites by Bruce Cockburn
Debout! by Le Diable à Cinq
The Lost Tapes by Ian & Sylvia


March 9, 2021

2021-juno-nomination-crowing-ignites

Bruce was nominated for a 2021 Juno for Crowing Ignites. The awards air on CBC TV on June 6, 2021. The nominees in this category are:

Movements III, Blitz//Berlin
Crowing Ignites, Bruce Cockburn
Eleven Words, David Foster
Volume 1, Flore Laurentienne
Prior Street, Gordon Grdina



January 4, 2021
Daniel Keebler

I asked Colin Linden about a few of the mics he has used when recording with Bruce. The photo on the left is from the Small Source of Comfort sessions. The photo on the right is from the Bone On Bones sessions.


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The vocal microphone of choice for Bruce is my Neumann U48. We used that on Small Source of Comfort and in the documentary [Pacing The Cage]. For Bone on Bone, we used a very similar one (but a U 47) on the bed tracks. When we overdubbed here [Colin’s studio in Nashville] we used mine again.

The mic dates back to around 1960 (same as me).

I have almost always used a 47 or 48 on his vocals. Mine is a really nice one. As they are old tube mics, they can sound quite different from one another.

On another note, and you probably know this, almost all of Bruce’s vocals (on the records I have produced) are live. Occasionally, we will fix a line or a word, but very rarely. He is always really prepared and he always sings great live vocals on the records.




© Daniel Keebler 1993-2021