Media 2009

Posted: December 16, 2009

Seeger Madison Square Garden concert DVD released

A two-DVD set featuring the star-studded concert held last May that celebrated Fishkill folk singer Pete Seeger's 90th birthday has been released.

"The Clearwater Concert" was held May 3 at Madison Square Garden and included performances by Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews and many others. Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Kris Kristofferson, John Mellencamp, Emmylou Harris, Ani DiFranco, Bruce Cockburn, Toshi Reagon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Tom Paxton, Billy Bragg, Taj Mahal, Michael Franti, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Bela Fleck, Tommy Sands, Tony Trischka, Dar Williams, Steve Earle, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Ben Harper and Tom Morello also performed.

Visit the Clearwater Concert website for information. The DVD costs $35 and all proceeds from sales will benefit Clearwater, which has taken an active role over decades in cleaning up the Hudson River and its watershed.

In a press release, Seeger said, "I never expected to see 18,000 people in Madison Square Garden for a birthday party, much less one of my own. Bless you all and bless all the great musicians on stage! This is one of the greatest singing audiences I ever heard in all my life.”


From Quill & Quire
December 2, 2009

Backstage at the PEN Canada benefit “Cockburn & Ondaatje: An Evening of Music and Words,” which was held at Toronto’s Glenn Gould Theatre on Nov. 21, 2009. From left: Bruce Cockburn, Lydia Cacho (the recipient of PEN Canada’s One Humanity Award), musician Sarah Harmer, Michael Ondaatje, and moderator Laurie Brown. (Photo courtesy of Matt Hayles) 


November 21, 2009
The Kingston Whig Standard

Touch of Canadiana
by Greg Burliuk

Some groups celebrate the release of a new CD in a halfhearted way, using a date that had already been booked and calling it a release party.

Not Kyra and Tully. The local Kingston folk duo spent three years making their new album, Wildlife (in and out of the city), and they want to celebrate. So they've booked a legitimate concert venue, Sydenham Street United Church, and some first-rate talent to perform with them.

Headlining will be Halifax's Jenn Grant, whose music is the theme song for the popular CBC-TV show Heartland and whose recent album, Echoes, has won critical accolades. And in a real coup, they have managed to snag Bruce Cockburn, who has a house near Kingston, who will perform a couple of songs on stage just before intermission, including one with Kyra and Tully.

The duo (whose married name is Pearson) have known Cockburn for a few years now. Each had songs on the Artists For The Algonquin benefit CD last year.

"When I asked him, he said I'll let you know," says Kyra. "So we waited on pins and needles for three weeks. And then he said he could do it and feel free to leak it out but that he would only be doing a couple of songs.

"It's an amazing thrill to share the stage with him."

It might seem like a big task to stage a concert, and it is, but the duo are not without resources. When the Sydenham Street United Church is used for concerts, Tully is usually part of the tech team. And Kyra has front-of-house experience, both at the Church for Queen's Performing Arts Office concerts and also at the Baby Grand. Plus, many of their musical friends have volunteered to help out.

"We just can't wait to get it out," says Kyra of the CD. "It's a really big deal for us and we put a lot of sweat and tears into it."

It's not that the journey wasn't a pleasant one, however. The process started in 2007 when 13 bedtracks were laid down, including vocals, bass and drums. From there, the process became a little more leisurely.

"Chris (Coleman, at whose Leopard Frog Studios the CD was recorded) was a real pleasure to work with," says Tully. "And if we wanted an extra bit added, we could ask some of our musical friends."

The songs themselves date back as long as 10 years ago. One of them is one of Tully's favourites, Thunder Bay. "I did it with Me Man Jack as a reggae song but it really begged to be done this way as a folk song," he says. "At the time, I was writing songs about going to San Jose, which I'd never been to, so why not Thunder Bay, which I had.

"I like songs that have that feeling of a ghost in them like Bruce Springsteen's Atlantic City. That's what I'm attempting to do in that song."

Kyra's favourite is one she wrote called Stitched on a Cloth.

"It's about our little community of friends and how we can feel their embrace and their help," she says.

The 11 songs on the CD can roughly be divided between Tully's songs from the road and Kyra's from the heart.

Tully says you could also say that the CD is "Canadiana for the whole family.

"We mention nature, and [Hwy.] 401 and Thunder Bay, which are Canadiana themes. And I even say I'm sorry."


The essentials

Who: Local folksingers Kyra and Tully are celebrating the release of their new CD Wildlife (in and out of the city).

What: They are having a concert in which they open for their friend, Halifax's Jenn Grant, and get Bruce Cockburn on stage to play a few songs.

When: The concert is tonight at 7 p. m. at Sydenham Street United Church. Cost:Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Children under 12 free.

Where to get tickets:Tickets are available at Queen's Performing Arts Office (JDUC), Zap Records, Tara Foods, and Brian's Record Option. Album: The CD is available at the concert for $15 and also at Zap Records and Brian's Record Option. Also present will be Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.


November 19, 2009
Kingston This Week
Kingston, Ontario

What's On
Posted By KTW Staff

Kingston's folk-pop duo Kyra and Tully are launching a new CD with some very good backup Saturday, Nov. 21, 7 p.m., at the Sydenham Street United Church.

Jenn Grant, the orchestral pop singer, for one; and Bruce Cockburn, Canadian folk icon, for another.

Kyra and Tully will release their new album, Wildlife (in and out of the city), coming off successes of their own including a recent showcase at NXNE in Toronto, positive reviews in Exclaim!, Broken Pencil, and Toronto's NOW. The new record is being released on filmmaker Lenny Epstein's imprint, Buster Records.

Grant, who has earned several East Coast Music Awards nominations, has had a busy month, playing shows in New York, Halifax and a couple of dates with Hawksley Workman in the eastern U.S.

Tickets are $12 in advance ($15 at the door) and are available at Queen's Performing Arts Office (JDUC), Zap Records, Tara Foods, and Brian's Record Option. Children under 12 get in free. 


November 18, 2009
Toronto Globe & Mail

Bruce Cockburn and Michael Ondaatje blow their horns

Musician and author planning an onstage chat to benefit PEN Canada
by Brad Wheeler

When Bruce Cockburn and Michael Ondaatje chat onstage Thursday, they will speak on the “joys and challenges of the creative life,” according to the press release from Pen Canada, the champion of free expression that the discussion is to benefit. The activist and singer-songwriter Cockburn might talk about rocket launchers and kicking at the darkness “till it bleeds daylight.” He may wonder out loud as to the whereabouts of lions. The author Ondaatje knows where the lions are. There's his 1987 novel In the Skin of a Lion , and the king of the jungle is a national symbol of Sri Lanka, his native country.

It's possible Cockburn and the English Patient writer might discuss Buddy Bolden, the legendary New Orleans cornet player whom Jelly Roll Morton once described as the “blowingest man ever lived since Gabriel.”

Ondaatje was inspired by the legend of Bolden to write Coming Through Slaughter , a novel and, later, a stage play, loosely based on the unrecorded jazz-inventor's deranged last days. Cockburn too knows about Bolden: The song Let the Bad Air Out (from Cockburn's 1999 album, Breakfast in New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu ) references a line from Morton's rag Buddy Bolden's Blues . “Open up the window, let the bad air out!” refers to the stale air of the funky dance halls in which Bolden blew his horn.

Will Ondaajte and Cockburn blow their own horns onstage? No they will not – moderator Laurie Brown from CBC Radio 2 will do that for them, justly acknowledging the talents of a pair of lionized Canadians.

Cockburn & Ondaatje: An Evening of Music and Words happens Thursday Nov. 19 in Toronto, 7 p.m. $50. Glenn Gould Theatre, 250 Front St. W., 416-872-4255.


Posted: October 7, 2009

A tribute concert to Bruce will be held at Hugh's Room in Toronto on October 10, 2009. Artist's include Andy Sheppard, Liam Titcomb, D'Arcy Wickham, Heather Luckhart, Hobson's Choice, Michael Johnston and Paisley Jura.


Posted: October 3, 2009

Bruce Cockburn contributes Waiting for a Miracle to benefit CD

One Voice – a magical double CD set of inspiration and celebration from some of Canada’s top names in music, created to help raise funds for The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF)

Designed to appeal to a broad range of musical tastes, One Voice includes music donated by Canadian Music Hall of Fame member Bruce Cockburn, Celtic songstress Loreena McKennitt, top-ten star Serena Ryder, jazz great Oscar Peterson, rock fiddler Ashley MacIsaac, folk legend Stan Rogers, hip hop artist Shad, rock headliners Blue Rodeo, R&B pioneer Jully Black, our own Three Cantors, top Canadian choirs such as Elektra Women’s Choir, Chor Leoni Men’s Choir, U of A Madrigal Singers, Vancouver Chamber Choir and many others (see full track list at the bottom of this page).

One Voice is a unique gift for Anglicans to proudly share with friends and family members. The CD sets will sell in Anglican churches for $20 each, and it is strongly recommended that parishes order early to avoid disappointment. Shipping will begin in early September 2009: the minimum order will be 10 CD sets (one case) plus shipping and handling. Contact Sheilagh McGlynn, PWRDF Public Engagement Associate, at or 416.924.9199 ext. 316.

One Voice is a PWRDF 50th anniversary initiative, with 100% of the proceeds going to support the work of PWRDF – sustainable development, relief, refugees, and global justice.

Join us in bringing our voices together as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of PWRDF.

Disc 1: Celebration

1 Waiting for a Miracle • Bruce Cockburn
2 Never-Ending Road (Amhrán Duit) • Loreena McKennitt
3 Je T’aime • Roxanne Potvin
4 Ever Present Need • Steve Bell
5 Higher • Tara MacLean
6 Finger Lakes • Blue Rodeo
7 Just Another Day • Serena Ryder
8 Lovely Irene • Lucie Idlout
9 Let Me Be • Elizabeth Shepherd
10 Delivery Delayed • Stan Rogers
11 A Miner And A Miner’s Son • The Men of the Deeps • composed by Tony Aucoin
12 McNabs • Ashley MacIsaac
13 Dizzy Nest • Oliver Jones
14 A Better Place • Julie Crochetière
15 I Travelled • Jully Black
16 I’ll Never Understand (featuring Bernadette Kabango) • Shad

Disc 2: Inspiration

1 Amazing Grace • Chor Leoni Men’s Choir • arranged by Robert Sund
2 Can You Imagine? • Vancouver Children's Choir •composed by Rupert Lang
3 Hymn To Freedom • Oscar Peterson Trio • composed by Oscar Peterson
4 Inverness • Joe Sealy • composed by Joe Sealy
5 Balm in Gilead • Vancouver Chamber Choir • arranged by Jon Washburn
6 O Vivens Fons • Elektra Women’s Choir • composed by Hildegard of Bingen
7 Hymn Of The Cherubim • The Choirs of St. Thomas’s • composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff
8 Os Justi • Pro Coro Canada• composed by Anton Bruckner
9 Ave Maria • CapriCCio Vocal Ensemble • composed by Anton Bruckner
10 Eternity • Hamilton Children’s Choir • composed by Michael Bojesen
11 Alleluia (from Exsultate Jubilate) • Rachel Snow • composed by W A Mozart
12 Abide With Me • The Three Cantors
13 Chorale Prelude On St. Columba • Angus Sinclair • composed by C V Stanford
14 The Cuckoo and the Hawk • Nathan Hiltz • composed by Nathan Hiltz
15 Evening Hymn • The Parish Choir of St. John’s Elora • composed by H B Gardiner
16 Hail, Gladdening Light • University of Alberta Madrigal Singers • composed by Charles Wood
17 The Ballad of Skipper Knight • Shallaway • composed by Stephen Hatfield


September 19, 2009
Canadian News Wire

Cockburn/Ondaatje Event Supports PEN Canada

Alice Munro/Diana Athill IFOA event sold out

TORONTO, Sept. 29 /CNW/ - PEN Canada is thrilled to announce that Bruce Cockburn and Michael Ondaatje will appear onstage together in a rare collaboration of music and words at the Glenn Gould Studio on November 19. The two Canadian legends will give their fans a once in a life time opportunity to witness a unique artistic endeavour, as well as to see them share their thoughts on the joys and challenges of the creative life. CBC Radio Two's Laurie Brown will host the evening. The event starts at 7:00 pm at Toronto's Glenn Gould Studio. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased now by phone through Roy Thomson Hall at 416-872-4255, or online at

The evening is in honour of Constance Rooke (1942-2009), who was a past president of PEN Canada and a passionate advocate of freedom of expression and the arts.

PEN is also pleased to announce that its opening night IFOA fundraiser with Alice Munro and Diana Athill has sold out. The opening night gala at IFOA will be Ms Munro's only onstage interview connected with the launch of her much-anticipated collection Too Much Happiness! Joining Ms Munro will be esteemed British editor and celebrated memoirist Diana Athill, whose most recent book, Somewhere Towards the End, was published last year, when she was 91. CBC Radio personality Matt Galloway will host the evening, and author/broadcaster Bill Richardson will moderate the conversation between Munro and Athill.

"As an organization that defends freedom of expression and advances literature and literary dialogue, we are extremely pleased," says PEN Canada President Ellen Seligman, "to launch our 2009/2010 season of PEN events with Alice Munro and Diana Athill, followed by Michael Ondaatje and Bruce Cockburn in creative collaboration."

Event proceeds will go to PEN Canada in support of its vital work on behalf of writers in prison, writers in exile, and freedom of speech.

About PEN Canada

PEN Canada is a centre of International PEN that campaigns on behalf of writers around the world persecuted for the expression of their thoughts. In Canada, it supports the right to free expression enshrined in Section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the past five years, PEN Canada has helped to free over 40 writers from prison.

About the IFOA

The International Festival of Authors was inaugurated in 1980 with a mandate to bring together the best writers of contemporary world literature. Like the weekly reading series, the IFOA includes readings, interviews, lectures and round table discussions as well as public book signings and a festival bookstore. The IFOA also presents a number of special events including readings by Scotiabank Giller Prize, Governor General's Literary Awards, and Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize finalists, as well as the awarding of the Harbourfront Festival Prize.

For further information: Media contact for PEN Canada: Bruce Walsh:, (416) 465-5237; Media contact for IFOA: Becky Toyne, Communications Coordinator, Authors at Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto, Ontario, M5J 2G8, Office: (416) 973-5836,


September 10, 2009
Ottawa Citizen

Cheering up Canadian troops in Afghanistan-
Cockburn brothers in Afghanistan - musician and military MD - sing from same songbook.
by Bruce Ward

Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn performs for Canadian troops at a forward operating base in Kandahar province, Sept. 10, 2009.
Photograph by: Finbarr O'Reilly, Reuters

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — When Bruce Cockburn arrived here Tuesday with a team of musicians and athletes to entertain the troops, he brought birthday gifts for his younger brother, Capt. John Cockburn, a doctor at the NATO hospital on the base.

The gifts were pretty much what you might expect from the singer/humanitarian: granola, organic almonds and cashews, and some special bread.

But Cockburn's stance on the war and his admiration for Canada's troops might be surprising to some of his fans.

" I'm full of admiration for these kids," he said in an interview. "The older I get, the more I see these young faces doing what they are doing and the chances they are taking — they feel like my own kids, and I love them and am happy to be here to show them my support.

"I've never been with the Canadian troops. It's a good feeling."

Cockburn, 64, does not think the Canadians should pull out of Afghanistan, as the government has said they would do in 2011.

"It's a long discussion on whether we should be in Afghanistan — whether anyone should be in Afghanistan. But since we are and we've gone this far, I don't think it's appropriate to leave at this stage.

"Certainly I have not had the idea that anyone I have talked to among the soldiers is hiding anything or trying to slant things to a particular view. They believe in what they doing and are witnesses to what they are doing and I have to accept the truth of what they are telling me. I don't think it's a good plan to be pulling out of here — with the circumstances at this time."

In an interview after the singer's performance, Capt. Cockburn joked that the birthday presents were payback for the musical misery he endured when the brothers were growing up in Ottawa.

"He used to drive me crazy with a song called Musical Friends. It's a nice catchy song, but he practised it incessantly when I was studying in the basement at the time. But I'm generally a long-term fan. I was the roadie in his first two bands."

Capt. Cockburn, 57, joined the army 2 1/2 years ago after working many years as a family doctor in northern Ontario.

"My main reason was just wanting to do something different. I had done a stint in Rwanda volunteering and it was the first time I really got a sense of the military and their medical role. I thought I would be too old to join but I wasn't and I was interested in coming here and it all kind of worked."

Capt. Cockburn has been in Afghanistan for six months.

"I still have another two years to go. Now that I've gotten to do this, they're not likely to send me back."

What was his brother's reaction when he joined up? "He was jealous," laughed Capt. Cockburn.

"He has always been interested, even as a kid, in military issues and hardware and explosions. I think that's just remained and with all the various exposures he's had to conflict zones I think he's accepted the reality that the military is necessary, like it or not. And I think he's gained a lot of appreciation of what military people do. He's always pretty sympathetic to the downtrodden but without the military to keep things in balance, things don't work out."

Cockburn, the rock band Finger 11, and singer Ricky Paquette performed at several forward operating bases Thursday in volatile Panjwaii district.

Cockburn sang his classic anti-war song If I Had A Rocket Launcher at every stop.

At the last show, Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, commander of the Canadian Forces in Kandahar, presented Cockburn with a real rocket launcher in a mock ceremony that delighted the troops.

"I was kind of hoping he would let me keep it," Cockburn joked to reporters.

Most of the troops here are members of the Quebec-based Van Doo regiment and former Montreal Canadiens hockey star Guy Lafleur received the loudest ovation from the troops at every stop Thursday.

© Copyright The Ottawa Citizen


September 10, 2009
The Canadian Press

Cockburn visits brother in Afghanistan

Canadian entertainer Bruce Cockburn was part among entertainers who performed at a forward-operating base in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan on Thursday. (Bill Graveland/Canadian Press)

Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn is known as much for his political activism as he is for his music.

His song, If I Had a Rocket Launcher, was written after he visited Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico that were attacked before and after his visit by Guatemalan military helicopters.

Cockburn, who has made 30 albums and has had countless hits, visited another war zone this week: Afghanistan. And the conflict involves a member of his own family. His brother, Capt. John Cockburn, is a doctor serving with the Canadian Forces at Kandahar Airfield.

"I was very curious. I have my own reasons aside from national pride and the love I feel for these people," said Cockburn, 64, who has a long history of being outspoken about human rights.

Ottawa-born Bruce Cockburn, left, visited his younger brother, Capt. John Cockburn, at Canada's Kandahar base hospital. (Bill Graveland/Canadian Press)

"The older I get, the more I see these young faces doing what they are doing and the chances they are taking — they feel like my kids."

Ottawa-born Cockburn has travelled to many countries, including Iraq and Mozambique, and written songs on political subjects ranging from the International Monetary Fund to landmines.

Arriving in a land that is rife with landmines, and with Canada in the middle of a war and with soldiers dying in the war-torn country, has given him pause to think.

"It's a long discussion on whether we should be in Afghanistan — whether anyone should be in Afghanistan," he said thoughtfully.

"But since we are, and since we've gone this far, I don't think it's appropriate to leave at this stage.
Troops 'believe in what they do'

"Certainly I have not had the idea that anyone I have talked to among these soldiers is hiding anything or been trying to slant things to a particular point of view," he said. "They believe in what they do and are witnesses to what they are doing, and I have to accept the truth in what they're telling me."

Cockburn spent some time visiting with his younger brother, John, 57, who joined the Canadian military two years ago. The former Canadian national ski coach was looking for something new to do.

"I had done a stint volunteering in Rwanda and it was the first time I really got a sense of the military and their medical role," John Cockburn said. "I thought I would be too old to join, but I wasn't, and I was interested in coming here and it all kind of worked."

Big brother Bruce was supportive about his decision to join the military.

"He was jealous," he said with a laugh. "He has always been interested, even as a kid, in military issues and hardware and explosions.

"I think that's just remained and, with all the various exposures he's had to conflict zones, I think he's accepted the reality that the military is necessary, like it or not."

Bruce Cockburn, along with other entertainers — including the group Finger Eleven and sports celebrities such as Guy Lafleur and Patrice Brisebois — got a rare look "outside the wire" of the main base in Kandahar when they were flown to a number of forward-operating bases in the Panjwaii district.

The reality of war hit home as the Canadian military responded after a suicide bomber blew himself up near a police vehicle in a bazaar in the nearby village of Bazar-e-Panjwaii. Six police officers and three civilians were injured in the attack.

The experience was an eye opener for the members of Team Canada visiting Afghanistan.
Performed If I Had a Rocket Launcher

Cockburn drew wild applause when he sang If I Had a Rocket Launcher, which prompted the commander of Task Force Kandahar, Gen. Jonathan Vance, to temporarily present him with a rocket launcher.

"I was kind of hoping he would let me keep it. Can you see Canada Customs? I don't think so," Cockburn said, laughing.

The most popular visitor for the largely francophone contingent of soldiers was former the Montreal Canadiens great, Lafleur.

Canadian entertainer Bruce Cockburn was part of a group of entertainers who performed at a forward operating base in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009. After Cockburn sung If I Had a Rocket Launcher Gen. Jonathan Vance jokingly presented him with a rocket launcher of his own. The Canadian Press / Bill Graveland.








August 23, 2009
The Ottawa Citizen

Cockburn creates magic with just voice, guitar
Folkfest performers display wit, wisdom and flair
by Lynn Saxberg

Freedom of expression was the order of the day at the Ottawa Folk Festival on Saturday, with a program that ranged from the politically charged music of Bruce Cockburn to the wacky comedy of the Arrogant Worms. Both acts are folkfest favourites in Ottawa, and have played at the Britannia Park site in past years.

Under a starry sky, the darkness was alive with possibility, as Cockburn sang in the 1986 song World of Wonders, with which he opened his headlining performance. Wearing a purple shirt and black jeans, the silver-haired troubadour performed solo, creating magic with little more than his voice and an acoustic guitar. At deadline, he was deep into the hypnotizing fretwork of Night Train.

Earlier in the evening, the Arrogant Worms were in fine form, obviously comfortable during their 89th performance at the Ottawa Folk Festival (or so they estimated). Joking about being pushed back to an earlier time slot, they declared their unhappiness with their "diminished role" and asked to be traded to Chamberfest.

The trio displayed a quick wit and improv ability and gleefully teased the folkfest audience about the hydration stations, falafels, and their concern for the environment. The jokes were fresh, but many of the songs were familiar, including the Worms' declaration of love to Céline Dion and the misfortune of being Jesus' brother, Bob.

Satirizing social issues is also a growing part of the Worms' show, as demonstrated in the song, Big Box Store. "How can you ever have enough," they sing, "when there is so much more?" Another song, Hollywood Girl, tears apart starlets like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton with devastating wordplay.

Another of Ottawa's favourite artists, ukulele wiz James Hill, surprised everyone with a bold performance, featuring his partner Anne Davison, a talented cellist. During their mainstage slot in the early evening, the couple debuted a new piece they've been working on that combines a experimental ukulele sounds with modern dance. "Maybe it's because we feel safe in Ottawa," Hill said. "We always feel like we can take chances here."

Forget about stepdancing to jigs and reels; this was something entirely different. As Hill inserted a chopstick into a uke laid across his lap, he altered the uke's fundamental musical nature. Davison rose from her cello stool, lunging into a series of jerky dance moves that reminded me of Tinkerbell, while Hill created a techno backdrop on his uke, complete with throbbing bass. No computers were used, he noted, to create the mesmerizing effects. Kudos to Hill for constantly pushing the limits of the pint-sized acoustic instrument.

Last night's bill also featured excellent sets by the Good Lovelies and Digging Roots, as well as several brief between-set performances on the small satellite stage, this year dubbed the Moon Stage.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2009
Photograph by: David Gonczol, The Ottawa Citizen


August 22, 2009
Sun Media

How Cockburn became a folk star
by Aeden Helmer

When Bruce Cockburn takes the Ottawa Folk Festival stage tonight, it will represent something of a full circle for the venerable Canadian songwriter, political activist, humanitarian and true north musical treasure.

Before embarking on an odyssey that would see him release some 26 albums over a nearly 40-year span, garnering numerous accolades -- including his 2001 induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame -- the Ottawa-born and raised Cockburn could be seen rubbing shoulders with the icons of Canada's '60s folk explosion at the legendary Le Hibou club.

That is, until he had to head back into the kitchen to finish a load of dishes.

"It started with hanging out there a lot, and I got to know the owners well enough that they hired me as a dishwasher," says the 64-year-old Cockburn.

"We were all hanging around there so much and we'd always play at open mics."

It was there that Cockburn cut his teeth playing his distinctive fingerstyle guitar to the coffeehouse crowd, and it was there that he met up with like-minded musicians to form seminal Ottawa band The Children.

"That's when the songwriting really started," says Cockburn, who flirted with mainstream success in various group incarnations before setting out on his own in the late '60s.

His first experience playing the folk festival circuit came in 1969, when he was asked to play a side stage at the Mariposa Folk Festival, only to be thrust into the main stage spotlight when the headliner took a gig at that little backwoods jamboree known as Woodstock.

On his most recent tour, Cockburn alternated between expansive outdoor stages, intimate club settings, even a run at Madison Square Garden.

"It doesn't matter how big the venue is, it doesn't matter how big the audience is. I feel comfortable as long as there's an audience that wants to listen," says Cockburn.

"It's not about the size of the audience, it's about the contact you have with whoever is there."

And there's no better way to make that connection than in the intimate and informal environs of the song circle, that heralded tradition of the folk fest scene.

Tomorrow, Cockburn will host Songs From the Road, a sit-down songwriters' circle with fellow festival headliners Joel Plaskett and Steven Page, and local songstress Ana Miura.

"From the audience point of view, the workshops offer an atmosphere of informality that you don't get in main stage concert situations," says Cockburn.

"We're all sitting there trading songs, and the great thing for the artist is you get introduced to these great people and great songs that you don't know."


Posted: August 21, 2009
Canadian Press

Two new docs exploring Canadian music scene in '70s, '80s a sweet ride
by Bill Brioux

BRAMPTON, Ontario. — Two new documentaries exploring the Canadian music scene in the 1970s and '80s sound like they could be a bad trip in a hippie van, packed with a mullet band and a punk hitchhiker.

But chill, dude.

Nicholas Jennings takes viewers on one sweet, tune-filled ride with "This Beat Goes On" and "Rise Up," two two-part docs that add up to a fun, four-hour salute to Canadian pop music.

The first part of "This Beat Goes On" begins Aug. 27 at 9 p.m. ET on CBC's "Doc Zone," with the series playing over the next three consecutive Thursdays.

Jennings, a Toronto-based author and journalist who used to cover music in the '80s for Macleans, previously wrote and produced "Shakin' All Over," his entertaining look at Canadian music in the '60s.

"This Beat Goes On" continues on from there and starts with the landmark Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission decision in the early '70s mandating that radio stations play at least 30 per cent home grown music on our airwaves.

"It was very controversial," says Jennings. "Canadian radio resented being told what to play and didn't want the quota."

Some stations shoved Canadian music into a midnight to 6 a.m. ghetto, or just played usual suspects like Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, The Guess Who or Anne Murray, says Jennings.

But by the mid-'70s, you could really start to see the fruits of the play-Canadian mandate.

A second and third wave of Canadian stars rose up directly as a result of all the airplay, he says.

Among the great rock 'n' roll stories told in "This Beat Goes On" is the almost too-good-to-be-true tale behind the making of Bachman Turner Overdrive's 1973 hit, "Takin' Care of Business."

The story goes that the band was rocking out take after take of the song when a pizza-delivery man - who happened to be a session musician - knocked on the door of the studio.

"What you guys need with that song is some keyboard," he told Randy Bachman. The pizza guy was invited to sit in, contributed a Jerry Lee Lewis-like piano riff, and took off again before Bachman could get his name.

"Whenever we stumbled on a story like that, we just pounced on it," says Jennings.

Bachman is just one of dozens who took part in the two documentaries.

Many gathered earlier this week at Toronto's Gladstone Hotel, including Donnie Walsh from The Downchild Blues Band, Kim Mitchell, Murray McLauchlan, bizarre electronic musician Nash the Slash - still in mummy drag after all these years - and Lorraine Segato of Parachute Club, who's 1983 anthem "Rise Up" gave the '80s documentary its title.

The lookback at the '80s benefits greatly from the rise of MTV and especially MuchMusic, and Jennings and associates were able to dig through stacks of music videos to help tell their story.

The explosion of music videos and the role MuchMusic played in promoting homegrown bands had a great deal to do with the growth of the Canadian music scene. Montrealer Corey Hart, for one, is seen as somebody who rode his "Sunglasses at Night" good looks to MTV glory in late 1983.

Sam Roberts also comments on how the '80s Men Without Hats hit "The Safety Dance" was played "fifty times a day" when he was growing up.

Jennings also relied heavily on the well-maintained CBC archives for much of his footage, although he occasionally stretched his budget to buy clips from American shows like Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" and NBC's "Saturday Night Live," (where Bruce Cockburn is seen performing "Wonder Where The Lions Are").

But he was disappointed to discover that the entire run of CTV's daily afternoon music series, "After Four," was either erased, taped over or destroyed.

"Everyone who was in Canadian music appeared on 'After Four' and they wiped the entire series away," says Jennings.

Sometimes the tributes get a bit too reverential. Gushing praise for the Spock-browed '80s act Dalbello seems a bit over-the-top.

And clips of well-coifed Montreal balladeer Gino Vanelli performing "I Just Want To Stop" invoke memories of Eugene Levy's hilarious "SCTV" send up, which had Levy getting hairier and even gorilla-like every time he turned around as Vannelli.

"We could have gone down that road, but, ultimately, this was a celebration," says Jennings. "We're not 'SCTV."'

Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ontario.


August 2009
From the Ottawa Folk festival Website

Bruce Cockburn to host Joel Plaskett and Steven Page in “Songs From the Road”

Our jaws have officially hit the floor. Not only will each of our headliners perform their own shows, they have decided to combine forces and present a workshop entitled “Songs From the Road.” They will be seen together around 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon, on the Hill Stage.


 July 2009
Acoustic Guitar Magazine

Bruce Cockburn Lesson
Your insider tour to Cockburn's brilliant one-man-band guitar style.
by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Anyone casually familiar with Bruce Cockburn's music is likely to think of him as a front man: in his best-known songs, from the lilting reggae of "Wondering Where the Lions Are" to the edgy rock of "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" to the danceable pop groove of "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," Cockburn has led full-sounding bands that feature sophisticated interplay among guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, and more. But take away the backup musicians and put Cockburn on a stage alone with an acoustic guitar, and something remarkable happens: the songs sound fundamentally the same as their band versions. The thumping bass lines, the syncopated percussion, the instrumental riffs that harmonize with the vocal melody, the jazzy single-line solos—all can be heard clearly right from Cockburn's guitar, and in real time (no looper required). Combining a composer's sense of detail with a jazz musician's taste for improv, Cockburn delivers a complete instrumental sound rarely achieved—or even attempted—by singer-songwriters performing solo.

The Canadian songwriter has been honing this one-man-band guitar style ever since he dropped out of the Berklee College of Music in the '60s to follow his muse. Forty years and 30 albums later, Cockburn's newest release, Slice o Life, captures his solo acoustic show on two exceptional live discs. Tracks include not only his "hits" but lesser-known gems such as "Wait No More," a haunting bluesy workout on an open-tuned resonator guitar; the gorgeous ballad "Pacing the Cage"; and the meditative, effects-heavy "World of Wonders." Throughout these songs Cockburn's spiritual and political concerns shine through, along with his poet's love of vivid imagery.

On a winter afternoon in Manhattan, Cockburn cracked open the case of his well-traveled Manzer acoustic guitar and spent a few hours sharing the inspirations and techniques behind his solo style.

You've said that back at Berklee you pictured yourself arranging music for big bands. In a way, it seems that's exactly what you do: you've just compressed it all onto six strings.

COCKBURN I guess so—it sunk in, in spite of my resistance to being taught. But that was not just from Berklee. I had studied composition and classical theory, too, and thought about composition a lot. When I went to music school, I didn't think I was going to be a songwriter. I liked playing folk and blues and rock 'n' roll, but the real intent was to be a composer in the jazz idiom mainly. There were a lot of things that people were starting to do with jazz, like mix it up with classical stuff in the so-called third-stream music of that era. The jazz world was discovering the music of other cultures, of Indian and Arabic traditions, so a lot of people were interested in broadening their horizons. I was coming into it green, so it seemed like, let's go for the broadest horizons possible. But composing was my intention.

I really see the songs as compositions. They're not lead sheets. They are not just a melody and chord symbols, although some of them work that way and I'm happy when they do, because it means that somebody who likes the song can play it without being particularly skilled on the guitar. But the songs are written as compositions, so that the guitar part is integral to the song as a whole.

Why, in retrospect, do you think songwriting won out over composing instrumental music?

COCKBURN I love words. There was something missing from the equation in the study of composition per se, and it turns out to have been the words.

I'd always tried to write poetry and compose music, but I didn't think of putting the two together until Bob Dylan and John Lennon—and then it was like, OK, you don't have to write sappy songs. There were a lot of other writers in that era, but Dylan and Lennon, in particular, were emblematic of the best that you could do in the two different directions that they wrote in. It just opened  up the whole idea. Gordon Lightfoot, too. Coming out of the world of folk music, I liked the bluesier stuff because of the edginess and rawness and sometimes smuttiness. I never had much patience with some of the flowery folk things. But somebody like Lightfoot comes along and writes songs, especially on his first two albums, that are perfect examples of the [folk] idiom. And it's like, "Wow, I know how to do that. I can fingerpick like that, I can put words together, and I should try it."

And then I had a mentor. When I dropped out of Berklee I went back to Ottawa and joined this band called the Children. The Children were the brainchild of a guy named Bill Hawkins, who was the éminence grise behind the band and didn't actually perform with us. I got involved in writing music for his lyrics, and then he would encourage me to write more of my own. So in the middle '60s I sort of started being a songwriter.

Let's dig into your guitar style and what I imagine is your starting point: the bass.

COCKBURN Yeah, it's really the thumb. It took a long time, relatively speaking, to get that to work. When I was starting to learn to fingerpick, I couldn't coordinate the thumb with anything sophisticated with the fingers. A guy who goes by the name Sneezy Waters currently was my main point of access to the world of blues and folk music when I was in high school. He pointed out that the thing to do is to get the thumb going independently first: watch the hockey game, make the thumb go, be on the phone, make the thumb go, until it becomes second nature. And then you can think about how to add the finger things on top.

The model for me in terms of adding the finger things was Mississippi John Hurt, who had a style based on an alternating bass and playing a melody on top. It's a beautiful, effective way of making the guitar work with a song, which will translate into almost any kind of music. If I wanted to do a Beatles song, how would I apply Mississippi John Hurt to a Beatles song? Long ago I learned how to do "Penny Lane" with a moving bass part and some of the horn lines. That was the approach really: to take the guitar and have it be the band.

It's one thing to make the bass automatic but another to make it groove. What's your secret?

COCKBURN The blues guys like Bill Broonzy or Lightnin' Hopkins would mute the bass usually—or they'd have strings that were so dead they might as well have been muting. That sound becomes a percussive thing; it's less about the harmonic function of the note and more about the rhythmic pulse.

I don't think I really understood the rhythmic groove until the beginning of the '90s when I did an album with T Bone Burnett, and T Bone was so insistent that everything be in the pocket. We were playing with [drummer] Jim Keltner and [bassist] Edgar Meyer, who are also incredible sticklers for being in the pocket.

By "pocket" you mean more than just tempo.

COCKBURN Yes, I do. In the broad sense it's all about tempo, of course, but within the tempo there's the feel. Whether you play faster or slower isn't the issue so much as within whatever tempo you have agreed upon, you all play together and where the beat wants to be felt. That's what is meant by a pocket.

Are bass lines on the guitar ever a starting point for you in writing songs?

COCKBURN No, not really. I can't swear that I've never done that, but it all tends to come as a package. The songs start with lyrics and work upward from there, so what kind of music gets applied depends on the feel of the lyrics and what they seem to want. If I have a set of lyrics that's waiting for music, I'll be consciously looking for music anytime I pick up the guitar.

Do lyrics sometimes wait around a long time for music?

COCKBURN Usually it's not too long before I find something. But one song took about 20 years: "Celestial Horses," from a couple of albums ago, is mostly made up of lyrics that I wrote in the '70s. I didn't get the appropriate music until the '90s. The music that I ended up with was very similar to what I had in my head when I started, but I could never get a grip on what that was.

Do the words come attached in your mind to some idea of a melody?

COCKBURN Not usually. A rhythm, yeah, but the melody kind of gets constructed as the song unfolds. I don't really think in melodies, and I have a hard time remembering melodies and even hearing them sometimes. But there's a rhythmic feel [to the lyrics].

There's an old song of mine called "Going to the Country." There are a lot of blues songs that make reference to going to the country—"Going to the country / Sorry but I can't take you." My song was a folkie pastoral thing quite different from that, but the original music I imagined was [plays typical blues shuffle], just like the old blues songs. Once I'd lived with my lyrics with that music for a while, it was clear that the music didn't carry the lyrics the way they needed to be carried. So it was a question of finding a different landscape to put them in.

Your guitar parts remind me of piano, because of the way you focus on individual voices and strings rather than strumming.

COCKBURN I don't think of it that way myself, but it makes sense. You can make the guitar work really well if all you do is strum chords. It's a good effect, but what I do instead is try to find things for the guitar that complement what's being sung or that help support it. Sometimes it's playing the melody along with myself; at other times it's more of a moving background part. It gives the song a color that it wouldn't otherwise have. If you're playing with a band, the tendency is to let the keyboard or the horns or the lead guitar do stuff like that. But because I write these songs to play them in any context, solo or with any combination of instruments, I tend to hog all the space, play all the parts, and then anybody who plays with me has to fit around that or join me in playing those parts.

You often use an unusual tuning you call "drop-F#," with the third string tuned down a half step and the rest standard. What does that allow you to do?

COCKBURN It gives you a [different] open string. One of the things that an acoustic guitar does beautifully is have notes ring against each other, and they ring best when you're not fingering the strings. I use this tuning quite a bit—there's a song called "Don't Feel Your Touch," for instance [Example 1]. You get a sense of flow that's different from what you could get in standard tuning.

I was comparing the solo version of "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" on the new record to the original recording, and your guitar part—despite being solo acoustic on one and electric with a band on the other—is essentially the same.

COCKBURN Yeah, the only reason it's different is because 25 years have gone by. Of course the solo changes from occasion to occasion.

"Rocket Launcher" is that Big Bill Broonzy [monotonic bass], except you put another note on the bottom for the second chord [Example 2], and it's the same whether it's electric guitar or acoustic. On the record at the time I was really interested in what you could do with the guitar and the Chapman stick as a combination, so Fergus Marsh is playing Chapman stick and adding upper harmonies that are very guitarlike but sound slightly different. I thought the combination worked really well.

On the chorus of that song, you use a lot of muting.

COCKBURN It's a combination of the heel of your [picking] hand hitting the bottom string and of letting go [with the fretting hand]. It's all fretted strings.There's no systematic way that I come up with rhythmic things like that. It's trial and error, bumbling around and finding something that feels cool.

In the solo section of "Rocket Launcher" you move between the two bass notes. When you're improvising over that, do you think about chord positions or scales?

COCKBURN Scales. It's partly what's within reach, given that you're going to have those bass notes. Because you want the fingers to be free, you can't tie them up making that [C] chord—you've got to use your thumb [to fret the sixth string].

And it's all modal stuff. One of the reasons I didn't do well at Berklee is I could never grasp the ii–V kind of harmonic approach—that means if you're in the key of E it would be an F#m to a B7 to an E. The old style of jazz that was around in the '60s was almost entirely made up of combinations of that sequence. And to me that was boring. It isn't boring when you hear great players doing it. Coltrane could sit there playing ii–Vs and blow your mind. But he could also play not doing those chords, and to me that was more exciting when I heard him stretching out without the limitations of that predictable movement.

But I got into the modal thing early on and it never went away. So most of what I write follows that pattern. In "Rocket Launcher" this is the scale. When you go to the C chord with your thumb, you're in position at the eighth fret to play in the key of C.

There are double-stops again using open strings, because that's what these guitars do well [Example 6]. It's easy because it's all pull-offs with two fingers. The thumb has to be pretty automatic for that.

You recently made a solo arrangement of "World of Wonders." How did that come about?

COCKBURN I can't remember any of the guitar part that's on the original record. [That song] was born in an era when I was always playing with a band. I didn't do much solo stuff in the '80s. I played a lot of electric guitar, and over the decade as the bands got bigger and denser, the guitar parts got smaller, which is the reason I went the other way subsequently: I was arranging myself out of existence.

The solo version has a totally different feel from the record, which is kind of Afro-R&B. It became a more dreamlike song. The guitar forms this continuum underneath the imagery of the lyrics with the conscious inclusion of elements like the paraphrase of the horn parts. This is also in drop-F#, with alternating bass].

Again, instead of just strumming an Em chord, you give the guitar something to do, a little pattern behind the melody. And when you're up the neck there are all kinds of nice little tinkly things. That's the drop-F# working. It's just hitting even one fret and then the open strings.

How about "Pacing the Cage": is that more of the Mississippi John Hurt school?

COCKBURN Very much. "Pacing the Cage" is in a C fingering, capoed at the fourth fret. Mississippi John would have done something different, but it's his style. If you think of "Creole Belle," which is archetypal Mississippi John, it's the same thing really—just a different sense of what to do with the top strings.

What qualities do you need in a guitar to facilitate what you do?

COCKBURN I need enough bottom that I can hear the thumb. For it to feel like the thumb is actually doing the job of a rhythm section, there needs to be enough oomph from the bottom of the guitar. Not every guitar is like that.

Of course when I go to the Dobro, Dobros don't have a lot of bottom. But what they have is a very even tone from string to string, so everything reads well. It's a different kind of effect.

Are there any new directions you can sense in your songwriting these days?

COCKBURN Well, I've done a little bit of collaborating, which is a pretty rare thing for me since the '60s at least. There's a young woman, Annabelle Chvostek, who was formerly with a group called the Wailin' Jennys. She and I wrote a couple of songs together—one that she recorded and one that's a work in progress right now, which I expect to record the next time I do an album.

I've been doing gigs with [violinist, singer, and songwriter] Jenny Scheinman that have opened up some harmonic sense, in the process of learning her tunes. There's one tune she does where the chords are in G minor but the melody is in A major. It's totally weird. I actually have to sing that melody along with her violin when we do that piece. Singing in a totally different key from what you're playing in is very educational!

I look forward to getting lots of those little epiphanies and seeing where they go. In the meantime, the songs I'm writing are much more acoustic than I thought they'd be. I'd wanted to get into noise more—just raucous electric guitar and formless, violent music [laughs], and I haven't done that. So apparently that wasn't the way to go. I've got a few new songs, and they're going in a pretty folky direction.

You have to follow where the songs lead you.

COCKBURN Yeah, where is that next idea? It's what you live through, it's what you think about. And after 30 albums, what do I say that I haven't said before?

Anchor Steam

Most of the time when he's fingerpicking, Cockburn anchors his pinky on the top of the guitar because he feels it provides extra leverage and power. But on songs such as "Last Night of the World," in which he picks clusters of notes rather than following an alternating-bass or steady-bass pattern, his anchor finger freely rises and falls. In fact, the sound of the pinky dropping onto the top becomes a percussive effect.

Bruce Cockburn's Guitars and Gear

Guitars: Two six-strings and a 12-string by Toronto luthier Linda Manzer ( Cockburn's main six-string, built about 20 years ago, has an extra-deep body, cedar top, Indian rosewood back and sides, blue finish (which tends to look more green), and Maya-inspired inlays designed by Manzer and Cockburn. Metal-body Dobro (chosen for the "self-consciously Arabic-sounding" song "Wait No More," for instance, because it sounds more like an oud than does a regular guitar). Tony Karol baritone acoustic (, used on "Peace March" from Life Short Call Now.

Strings: Martin Marquis light-gauge strings.

Capos: Kyser Quick Change.

Amplification: Cockburn's main six- and 12-string acoustics have side-mounted Fishman Prefix Pro preamps with Acoustic Matrix pickups and Audio-Technica internal mics. The mic signal goes direct to the board; the pickup runs through a pedalboard, as follows: Boss TU-2 tuner, Empress tremolo, Boss DD-5 delay, Line 6 MM4 and DL4. From there the signal goes to a rack-mounted Lexicon Alex reverb (used for its infinite reverb on songs such as "World of Wonders") and a Demeter tube DI.


June 20, 2009
The New York Times

Music Review | Madeleine Peyroux
Shuffling, Swooping and Gliding So Much, You Don’t Always Need a Melody
by Stephen Holden

It wasn’t so long ago that the singer Madeleine Peyroux, with her kittenish voice and sultry behind-the-beat phrasing, was described somewhat dismissively as a vocal clone of Billie Holiday. That her repertory includes several songs associated with Lady Day only contributed to the impression.

But as her recent album, “Bare Bones” (Rounder), all of whose songs she had a hand in writing, and her performance at Town Hall on Thursday evening demonstrated, she is a much more complicated musical figure.

The show, at which she was accompanied by a mostly acoustic blues band, suggested that for Ms. Peyroux, Holiday’s music is a template from which she has branched out to refine an enigmatic, low-key personal style that is all her own. Only intermittently settling on notes, she likes to swoop and glide around them, sometimes ignoring the melody altogether. Her rendition of the Patsy Cline standard “Walkin’ After Midnight,” arranged as a blues shuffle, not only forsook the tune but also seemed unmoored to a key.

If the ups and downs of heated romantic love inform some of Ms. Peyroux’s songs, the timbre of her voice, more ethereal than Holiday’s, doesn’t convey the defiant masochism that made Holiday’s sound, even in upbeat moments, suggest an open sore. The wounds described in Ms. Peyroux’s best new lyrics are more familial than erotic.

Introducing “Bare Bones,” the album’s title song, written with Walter Becker and Larry Klein, Ms. Peyroux said its opening lines — “I remember what my daddy taught me ’bout how warm whiskey is in a cold ditch/And one more thing about good and evil: you can’t tell which is which” — are something her father really told her. The song goes on to describe her skepticism about the existence of any firm truth but ends with a tentative affirmation: “There’s somethin’ lovely after all.”

An ambivalent relationship with a drinking man (probably the same father) who “could sit and drink the way a monk could pray” is remembered in “River of Tears,” at the end of which the narrator picks up “that old decanter that he used to drink from.” In “Love and Treachery” she recognizes her genetic inheritance by hearing the same man’s voice in hers and acknowledges, “All your love and treachery ended up as mine.”

Because Ms. Peyroux lived for a time in Paris, where she worked as a street performer, she has been described as French-American, although that would be stretching the definition. The most perfect musical moment on Thursday was an accordion-laced rendition of Serge Gainsbourg’s waltz “La Javanaise,” sung in impeccable French with the members of her band clustered around her.

The Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, who opened for Ms. Peyroux, performed selections from his new album, “Slice O’ Life: Bruce Cockburn: Live Solo” (Rounder Pgd), and other familiar songs from a solo career that spans nearly 40 years.

From the beginning, a lofty Christian mysticism (cosmic, not evangelical) and left-wing politics have been the twin themes of Mr. Cockburn’s lyrics, written in an impressionistic post-Beat style. Alone on the stage, he accompanied himself on guitars that seemed to send up little sprays of fireworks.


June 9, 2009
The Hamilton Spectator

Mac sings praises of Cockburn, Elford
by Wade Hemsworth

They are two distinctly Canadian artists, both recognized for their creative work and for their altruism.

While he was earning Juno Awards in the recording studio, she was designing and making them in the glass studio.

He has used his influence and profile to raise awareness about human rights and the devastation of war while she has used hers to serve her community in countless public and private acts of service.

McMaster University recognized musician Bruce Cockburn and Hamilton glass sculptor Shirley Elford as outstanding artists and conscientious citizens by presenting both of them with honorary doctorates at the humanities convocation ceremony yesterday.

"Bruce Cockburn is a Canadian original," said McMaster provost Ilene Busch-Vishniac, who introduced the singer-songwriter. "His drive for musical excellence and innovation, combined with his unrelenting pursuit of social awareness and justice, has distinguished him as one of the most respected musical influences of the last four decades."

McMaster's dean of humanities, Suzanne Crosta, said Elford's sculptures are part of important public and private collections around the world, but that locally she is known just as well for her community work on boards and committees ranging from the Hamilton Public Library to the Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation.

"Shirley Elford is one of the true jewels of our community," she said. "Her art has moved and inspired thousands, and her dedication as a volunteer has helped shape and lead our city."

Later, Cockburn addressed the graduating students from the Hamilton Place stage, where he is more comfortable playing than speaking.

"I get freaked out in situations like these," Cockburn started. "Making a speech for me is like walking a tightrope, with Hunter S. Thompson holding one end and Spinal Tap on the other."

The musician who rose to prominence as the writer and performer of such hits as Wondering Where The Lions Are, Call It Democracy and If I Had a Rocket Launcher was alternately philosophical and humorous as he reflected on the hollow nature of modern celebrity that creates fame without substance.

"I believe respect is a basic human right, along with the right to breathe and have access to water and to vote for the bozo of your choice," he said. "But if you want more than that basic respect, you need to be respected for something."

He told the graduands that he didn't have much practical advice for them, except that his own life and career have taught him simply to try his best.

"Striving to be the best you that you can be is the one thing you can exercise a degree of control over. Try to do it with love, if you can," he said.

"Respect comes from being good at what you do. I'm talking about art, but that can just as easily be said about teaching, or police work, or the practice of medicine."


 Lovers In A Dangerous Time

The film will be screened in Toronto on June 26, 2009.

This romantic ‘Canadiana’ tale centers around two former childhood friends; Todd, a small town could-have-been, and Allison, an overly nostalgic children’s book illustrator, who are reunited at their ten year high school reunion and embark on a childish yet romantic adventure recapturing the life they use to live. However, major questions arise, like “what does it mean to have shared a bathtub at three?” and things get even more complicated when Todd’s younger hockey star brother returns home. The result has them spiraling into delinquent behavior where scorching campfire antics, teenage bush parties and childhood memories only delay their impending return to adulthood. In the end, it’s a story about those that are unwilling to let go of their youth and the means they will take to hold on to it.

The title song is a cover by JBM.





Posted: May 19, 2009

Bruce Cockburn: Water Into Wine
by Dennis Cook

These fragile bodies of touch and taste
This vibrant skin, this hair like lace
Spirits open to the thrust of grace
Never a breath you can afford to waste

There is a sense of the world split open in the work of Bruce Cockburn, like a ripe fig pulled apart by strong hands, the innards tasted hungrily and savored with closed-eye wonder. Since his self-titled 1970 debut, the Canadian singer-songwriter has extended what Wallace Stevens termed "the palm at the end of the mind." There is an intensity of experience and colorful, wholly engaged beauty that runs from head to tail in his music. His lust for life makes one feel a bit more alive just for being exposed to his bold observations and gorgeous melodies.

A tireless veteran live performer, he's never achieved U.S. recognition on the same level as contemporary Neil Young, but the two share a number of striking similarities: a distinct voice in a art field that makes individuality difficult, wicked guitar playing skills, a ribald and rebellious nature and an embrace of most of the finest, enduring traits of human beings. While widely celebrated in his native land, in the States he's only occasionally popped up on the mainstream radar with singles like "If I Had A Rocket Launcher." However, he's developed a devoted core audience in the U.S. and around the world that understands the pervasive oomph of his massive catalog and always-intimate concert appearances.

His newest release, Slice O Life (released March 31 on Rounder Records), is a double disc live collection that's as fine an introduction to Cockburn's work as any assembled. It presents his potent baritone tackling pieces from all across his career as well as signature influences like Willie Johnson's "Soul of a Man," with the lot embellished by entertaining, informative anecdotes that offer off-handed insight into one of the most complex, poetic men in contemporary music. Culled from live performances and soundcheck explorations, Slice O Life provides a winning snapshot of an artist of tremendous stability and unbroken quality.

Few things are simple with Bruce Cockburn. He likes to qualify and broaden his ideas and answers, but in the way the Japanese admire, where complication and clouding in language rarely points to one meaning, one destination. In this way, Cockburn's music is spacious, diverse and capable of mutable forms, drawing readily from blues, jazz, rock and folk to create a flexible, inviting hybrid overlaid with vivid imagery and open feeling.

Given JamBase's own love of variety and intense talent, we are tickled several shades of pink to have scored an hour of Cockburn's time, where we discussed spirituality, playing solo, his influences and much, much more.

JamBase: One of the challenges now after 30-some albums and almost 40 years of professional work is where does one jump in? That's a lot of music, man [laughs].

Bruce Cockburn: It's a challenge for me when somebody says, "Where do I start? What should I listen to?" I don't know [laughs].

JamBase: The new live album provides a pretty good foot in the door. It offers a pretty wide cross-section of what you've done.

Bruce Cockburn: It sorta does go back to the beginning, so I guess it is that [introduction], partly because it's solo and that strain of what I've done over the years, which is how I started.

One man, one guitar. There's something very pure about that.

I don't think I was thinking purity, exactly, at the time [laughs]. There certainly is simplicity, in musical as well as practical terms. It was a choice. I'd come out playing in a bunch of bands in the second half of the '60s and I was tired of noise and tired of bad jamming, and I figured maybe other people were, too, and there might be a place for a guy doing things alone with an acoustic guitar. And I'd been interested in folk music and traditional music for a while, so it wasn't too big a leap.

JB: Had you been writing songs already at that point? It seems like you arrived on your debut with a fairly intact vision. There's a sense of personality to even the early records.

During that band period I was writing songs; originally I was writing songs for all the bands I was in and thinking, to some extent, of those bands when I was writing songs. But after a few years went by I noticed I had this little repertoire of songs within that that really worked better when I played them alone. And they were all the best ones [laughs]. When I came out as myself and not as the guitar player in somebody's band it was with a sense of the songs I wanted to do and an idea of how I wanted to see myself. In some sense, it was an embracing of the sensibilities of the era but also a reaction to the collective thing, which never really sat right for me. I never did very well as a hippie [laughs].

JB: There's very little hippie-like about your records in that period.
I just didn't fit with that. I never really fit with anything, which is partially why I sound like me and not somebody else. It was certainly true then. I felt like I'd learned a lot being in bands. I learned how to be onstage and what worked musically and what didn't, and certainly what I was capable of. There's always room for growth, of course, and you never really know what you're capable of, but I had a pretty good sense of it relative to what I'd been doing. So, it was a natural step.

JB: One of the things I'm struck by in your music, and it's there from the beginning, is, I wouldn't say an overt spirituality but an engagement with that type of subject matter. I've never found your work to be preachy but I've also never found it tenuous, which tends to be the case when people take on those types of concepts.

When we talk about taking on things in terms of songwriting, well, I guess if that's what you do it carries certain conditions and risks perhaps, but I never felt like that's what I've done. I always felt like I just wrote about what's sitting there. So, when it looks like I'm taking on something it's because I've been thinking about that thing and I'm having a reaction to that thing. If it's a political song, a spiritual song or a song about sex it's all the same. This is what I've experienced and how I feel about it, and it's kind of grabbing you by the lapels and saying, "You better listen to this!" I just need to convince somebody they should [laughs].

JB: I think terminology matters. I used the phrase 'taking on' but it's clear your work emerges from a more personal space. It's not like you have a cause you're trying to grind out. It's not like you're a cause person anyway, though you have been labeled as such by some over the years.
Yeah, I've been associated with all sorts of causes, and I don't really mind that generally. If I get labeled as an environmentalist because I care about the survival of the planet for my child and grandchildren to me that's not a cause, it's just, "Come on, let's stay alive! Let's get on with it! This is life!"

JB: Yeah, I guess if there's one unifying thing I've picked up on about your music as a long-time listener is it's about life, it's about being engaged with things and sometimes in a very earthy way, which wins you points with me.

Sometimes it's downright smutty! I think it's just about truth, and not wanting to sound pompous, it's about the human experience, what we are. And we are creatures of the flesh and we have the capacity to comprehend a larger reality than our sense can encompass but we feel is there. At some point in the future scientists may discover what spirituality really is, and if they do it's going to look something like capitalism [laughs]. I think there's going to be all kinds of mysterious strains in there, maybe reducible to numbers, maybe not. To me, that's at the core of everything.

JB: There's a tendency to divorce the physical aspects of humanity from the spiritual aspects.

It's unfortunate. The senses may lie – and do from time to time – but they always connect us to a bigger reality. And by senses I include whatever we consider to be extrasensory, too. I think that's just a word for senses we don't have a proper name for, but the capacity for feeling that bigger reality exists in all of us. In different ways, to different degrees, it gets expression in often radically different languages, and that expression suffers badly from the attempt to detach it from the flesh.

JB: When you take those two things away from each other they're both going to suffer.

There's no question of that, and you're probably going to go out and make someone else suffer, too!

JB: So true! When we carry some big wound or detachment in us there's a tendency to cause damage around us.
We project it out and blame other people for it. We blame Jews or we blame Communists or we blame Muslims or they blame Christians. It's all bullshit! It's all about projection of that interior wound.

JB: We're getting pretty lofty [laughs]. In more practical terms, I'm interested in the process of playing solo. How has that developed over the years?

For one thing, there's the obvious difference that when a band's playing it covers up a lot of what the guitar is doing. Even if we've been careful about keeping space clear for what the guitar is doing there's other stuff for people to notice, or should be; those musicians aren't standing up there to be models, they're playing their instruments and you want people to hear that. But, what happens when you don't have those musicians there is you have a greater focus on what the guitar is doing and how the guitar and voice relate to each other, which is how I write the songs. So, something more essential happens with respect to the song. It's less of a performance, though I hope the performance aspect is adequate and interesting to people. But it's less about that and more about the song itself as a composition.

JB: With the guitar work more exposed you have to carry a bit more on yourself but at the same time the original intentions of the piece are more naked. Your guitar work comes out of the blues tradition initially but I've always liked the echoes of the British guys I've long been mad for like Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and John Martyn.

It's interesting because I never listened to them but other people have said that. I attribute it to the fact that those guys and me all listened to the same things. And we're not coming at it from an American perspective, whatever that means. There is something different. There's no denying the whole vibe of England is much different than America, and different from Canada as well. The fact that I was filtering those influences through my Canadian experience may have been enough like the English thing for there to be similarities. Nick Drake is another guy that comes up a lot with me, and I've never listened to a Nick Drake album all the way through. I've listened to a few songs here and there because people said I should check it out and I didn't like it! It was okay, respectable stuff, but it didn't touch me particularly. The exception [in this area] may be Bert Jansch and his first album before there was Pentangle. Really, the people I was listening to were the old blues guys and, of course, Bob Dylan, and the world of finger-picking that was out there didn't escape my notice.

JB: That's interesting. Maybe the way things move in the world is they hit a few different places simultaneously, the lightning hits in a few spots at precisely the same time.

It's one of the really good reasons to not get a swelled head about all the really cool stuff you're coming up with [laughs]. There's a really good chance somebody out there is doing the same thing.

JB: How did this stuff come into your life? How did a young white guy in Canada discover that he really liked black blues music?

At first it wasn't black blues, it was the early Sun Records era of Elvis [Presley] that made me want to be a musician. I liked the music and wanted to play it before I even got a guitar. And Buddy Holly, too. It was white people playing things that were basically based on black music but where I grew up there weren't any black people! That's what you heard, that's what was on the radio. I loved rock 'n' roll and then when I started taking guitar lessons I was exposed to other stuff, and that wasn't very black either – Les Paul and Chet Atkins – a step removed from the rock thing – and then jazz. Eventually I came around. Towards the end of high school I met some people that played so-called folk music, and I was fascinated. I had never finger-picked before that; I was strictly flat-pick, a little jazzy and a little of that. So, I brought something to my contact with those guys that they didn't have in their background, but here were these guys playing Leadbelly and Brownie McGee songs and finger-picking. Once that door was open, well, you see what happened.

There was a club in Ottawa that I used to go to all the time that I eventually ended up doing dishes and making espressos at, and ended up playing at in time. You weasel your way into the scene. Chances are you don't arrive fully formed. This is a way to enter a scene. You're just a guy who plays guitar and you know a few things, and the way to gain entry to a group that's relatively closed is often social. You don't just crash your way in and say, "You need me because I'm a great guitar player." You do it by being friends with people, and when you're 17 and excited by this stuff you do it by washing dishes and hanging out and just being there.

JB: There's a vividness to your lyrics, a sense of scene that's cinematic and full of strong imagery. I wonder if poetry has had a strong impact on what you do. It does seem you draw a bit more from that world than the usual verse-chorus-verse folk singer kind of songwriting.

It's had a huge influence, and predates the effect of hearing Elvis. I was interested in poetry before I knew I wanted to play music. I remember somewhere in the middle of grade school encountering in English class studying what I think of as dumb rhyming, and it wasn't very interesting to me except for something like "The Highwayman," which had a kind of gothic quality. A lot of stuff we studied was just boring. Then, along comes this poem called "Ars Poetica" by Archibald MacLeish that I memorized, and it was kind of an abstract or surreal poem. That shocked the shit out of me and this world opened up right there. Words! A poem doesn't have to be defined by the strictures of rhyme or the need to tell a story or whatever kind of stuff we'd been taught. Language assumed a whole new significance for me right there.

JB: It is a different way of communicating ideas. There's a comfort level with making leaps that sort of poetry has that's closer to songwriting than structured poetry.

The leaps are what it's all about, really. There's a lot of different things that can be called poetry, and I guess justly so, but you can tell the story in a poetic manner and it doesn't have to be Beowulf or The Iliad. Those have their strengths and power but they too rely on their ability to create visual imagery. They paint word pictures you're invited to dive into – the shiny helmets and whatever it might be – even with Homer, who apparently couldn't see any of this stuff!

I've always loved movies, too. I think movies are as big an influence on what I do as poetry or old blues guys. The first movie I ever saw was a Roy Rogers movie my dad took me to, so it wasn't a good beginning but I really liked it. In the latter years of high school I got introduced to Fellini, Bergman and the more cutting edge people of the day, and I loved them, Bergman in particular because it related to that northern sensibility and because a couple of his films are set in medieval times, and I was always fascinated with that, too. Here were these movies that were SO not Hollywood and so intelligent that represented a realm, especially then, that I fantasized about being in.

JB: I think the title of the new live set, Slice O Life, almost suggests a film, and in a way you paint a series of scenes within it, especially because it jumps back and forth across your career.

I guess I thought when I was putting together the repertoire for these shows I wanted to do a cross-section; I always do that but I guess I thought about it a bit more here. We didn't know what would end up on the album. You throw all this stuff out there, and I spent weeks and weeks weeding through 40 hours of recordings to find the right performances of the right songs. It was quite excruciating actually [laughs]. But it was something that worked quite well in the end.

JB: The editing is crucial. It can pour out of you pretty fast but then you wonder, "What the hell do I do with all of this?"

Exactly! You wonder, "Does this make any sense?" I feel very fortunate to not have to answer to suits, but some of the same weeding process has to happen; you have to be tough with yourself. There are exceptions to this; Dylan does very well with this, creating songs that sprawl all over the place but are still powerful. Usually you need to edit what you're doing and weed out all the crap, though sometimes not weeding out the crap creates the strength of the "film." So, I don't know. I guess I back away from making any kind of generalization.

Ottawa poet Bill Hawkins, who was kind of a mentor to me when I first started writing songs, told me that when you're writing a poem just write what's coming out of your head and then go back and cross off everything that doesn't absolutely have to be there. And you're left with something like the finished poem. Although you wouldn't necessarily know that listening to my songs but it's been an important principle to me over the years. It's true and it remains true for me.

Photos courtesy of Riddle Films Inc.


May 4, 2009

Springsteen, Mellencamp, Morello and More Celebrate Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday With Sing-Alongs

Pete Seeger has always maintained that his greatest joy as a performer is to lead others in sing-alongs. At his 90th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden last night he must have been ecstatic since for nearly four and a half hours he and 51 other artists transformed the massive arena into an intimate campfire sing-along, where toddlers, senior citizens and everyone in between belted “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” “This Land is Your Land,” “Turn Turn Turn” and many others songs Seeger wrote or popularized over his seven-decade career. “There is no such thing as a wrong note,” Seeger said after leading a group rendition of “Amazing Grace” midway through the show, “just as long as you’re singing along.”

The concert — a benefit for Seeger’s Clearwater environmental group that works to clean the Hudson River — began with Seeger playing a mournful tune on a recorder in front of a group of Native American musicians. “Ever since a guy named Hudson went up that river, it’s gone to hell,” one of them said. John Mellencamp then came out and performed a solo acoustic version of Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer.” “This song was written in 1949 and made quite a stir in 1949,” “Mellencamp said. “We were all afraid of the reds back then.” He then did his 2008 tune “A Ride Back Home,” which he said he wrote “after listening to a bunch of Pete Seeger songs.”

After brief introductory remarks by Tim Robbins, a long evening of musical collaborations kicked off — which included Tom Morello, Bruce Cockburn, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Patterson Hood, Taj Mahal, Warren Haynes, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie and others playing in many permutations. Highlights included Morello and Taj Mahal dueting on “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy,” The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Hood, Haynes and Pete’s grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger doing Seeger’s anti-war tune “Bring ‘Em Home,” Baez, Scarlett Lee Moore and Mike and Ruthy Merenda doing “Jacob’s Ladder” and Kris Kristofferson and Ani DiFranco’s playful duet on the children’s song “There’s A Hole In My Bucket.”

In keeping with the folk tradition, some songs were updated to reference current events, like the addition of “The curse of Reagonomics has finally taken its toll” to DiFranco and Cockburn’s version of the 1930’s union classic “Which Side Are You On.” The most surreal performance of the night was when Tom Chapin was joined by none other than Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch for Seeger’s eco-friendly tune “Garbage.” “Have a rotten everything,” the muppet said while throwing banana peels and other bits of garbage onto the stage.

Dave Matthews first hit the stage around the four-hour mark. “What a night!” he said. “The first concert I ever saw was when my mom took me to see Pete Seeger,” he added, before breaking out his falsetto for an acoustic “Rye Whiskey.” He was followed by Bruce Springsteen, who released an album of Seeger tunes just three years ago. “Pete is a walking, singing archive of American history,” Springsteen said during a long, moving speech. “He had the audacity and courage to sing in the voice of the American people. At 90, he remains a stealth dagger into the country’s illusions about itself.” Along with Tom Morello, he did “The Ghost Of Tom Joad,” which Seeger himself covered two years ago.

For the finale, every performer of the night crammed onto the stage for “This Land Is Your Land.” “I gave you the words and you sing along,” Seeger told the crowd. As he did at Barack Obama’s inauguration, he included the often skipped verses about the relief office and the private property sign. After leaving the stage to “This Little Light Of Mine,” everybody returned for “Goodnight Irene” — which Seeger’s group the Weavers took to Number One in 1950. Watching the nonagenarian at work is truly astounding. His energy and joy seem limitless, and he really doesn’t look a day over 70 — a point underscored when Pete’s older (!) brother John sauntered over to the microphone to address the crowd: “If I’m 95, Pete’s going to make it to 100!”

-Andy Greene


April 26, 2009

Bruce Cockburn - Slice O Life: Live Solo
(Rounder) UK release date: 4 May 2009

Bruce Cockburn has been making music for the best part of 40 years now, which is time enough for any self-respecting songwriter and musician to have got all the experimental urges out of their system and realised exactly what it is they are best at and what their devoted fanbase wants to hear.

All of which is a rather long-winded way of saying that the two-disc live solo collection Slice O Life may just be an essential purchase for anyone with only a cursory interest in the Canadian singer-songwriter's music (a national treasure in his native country, Cockburn has at best only had limited success outside its shores).

Released on his North American label of the last few years, Rounder Records, Slice O Life is drawn from ten shows on his 2008 summer tour. It's a measure of the devotion in which his fans hold Cockburn that this album opens with nearly a minute of applause.

Cockburn is a consummate professional on stage and knows just which buttons to press. Hence, he opens with two of his most melodic and engaging songs; World Of Wonders and Lovers In A Dangerous Time. Both tracks are suited to the stripped down solo format, allowing Cockburn's masterful guitar playing to shine and giving his powerful baritone free range to express his wordy but insightful insights into the human condition.

Cockburn is another of those singers whose vocals have got better with age (the parallels with Warren Zevon are interesting), developing extra nuances with the passing of years. And it is a delight to hear his songs stripped of the dated production flourishes that often made his studio albums difficult to love.

The singer's self-deprecating stage banter with his fans is a joy to hear and should be required listening for all those young acts who shun their audiences. Three 'stories' even make the track listing in their own right, the best of which is Bearded Folksinger.

Slice O Life's generous running time allows the inclusion of some of Cockburn's instrumental interludes, but to be honest a track such as the shimmering The End Of All Rivers must have been a strong contender to make it onto a single disc.

Long-time fans of Cockburn will be delighted with the versions of his most famous songs on show here, notably the aforementioned World Of Wonders and Lovers In A Dangerous Time, but also the 'hits' Wondering Where The Lions Are and If I Had A Rocket Launcher. The latter is dated, true, but Cockburn invests the song with the same level of passion as he did in 1984.

Slice O Life ends with three soundcheck performances that are a reminder of what a great guitar player Cockburn is (often overlooked by lazy critics who prefer to tag the man as a Christian songwriter). Pleasingly, the album ends with a bluesy version of one of his earliest songs, Mama Just Wants To Barrelhouse All Night Long.

This is a fine career overview that will be an essential purchase for Cockburn fans and is also worth the investment for those wishing to investigate neglected singer-songwriters.

- Nic Oliver


April 22, 2009
The Peterborough Examiner

Cockburn serves slice of life
MUSIC: Folk Under the Clock concert

Bruce Cockburn played Showplace Peterborough last night to a capacity crowd of the converted.

Twenty albums and numerous Juno Awards into a self styled career, Cockburn is not, nor does he need to be a melodic or lyrical "stock"model.

Innovative guitar playing and poetic flight of fancy mark his work in a category very much his own and the man may very well have the hardest working thumb in show business (outside of a few funk bassists).

Over the years Cockburn has fronted some unique combos, but he really just needs a guitar in hand and a roomful of folks to serenade.

This listener last heard this particular troubadour in the venerable auditorium of PCVS, fresh from a junket in Latin America; a young(ish) firebrand with a retaliatory chip on his shoulder and an acoustic axe that he could most surely grind.

Recently he has turned up on the tribute compilation to the Ottawa poet/lyricist William (Bill) Hawkins; where he was quoted on the liner notes as having written his first music to accompany the iconic wordsmith's musings on the melting pot of Canadian culture.

Cockburn has come a long way on a path pretty much his own since those early days, managing to create a niche that he alone inhabits, complete with (honest to God) hit records in the face of some pretty dire musical landscape.

His Slice o' Life tour to promote his double live recording of the same title brings a remarkable canon of original material to the masses and the crowd in attendance for last night's show was not left wanting (though this listener has always been particularly fond of the quintessential Candaian classic "The Coldest Night of the Year"--one of the many Cockburn gems that just could not be fit into a single evening's performance).

Bruce's "chops" have never been in question; it's great to hear that his voice is just as rich and warm as it ever has been, a perfectly relaxed foil to his driving fingerstyle guitar.

Cockburn capped a generous show with a call and response version of "Wondering Where the Lions Are" (this listener looking forward to hearing the evening recorded by CBC Radio 2), followed by the early bump 'n' grind hit "Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse (all night long)" ... and just prior to the guaranteed standing ovation a lovely tune with the hook "I Don't want to Say Goodnight."

It was a good night, Bruce; and to quote another Canadian music icon "Long May You Run"... safe travels, and come on back if and when you can.

Dennis O'Toole is a singer, songwriter and a freelance reviewer for The Examiner.

Copyright © 2009 Peterborough Examiner


April 18, 2009
The Ann Arbor News

Bruce Cockburn topical as ever on new live CD
by Kevin Ransom

Bruce Cockburn has been making records for so long - almost 40 years now - that he's recorded three live albums over the course of his career - in 1977, '90 and '97.

All three were folk-rock performances, where he was backed by a band. But Cockburn probably does as many solo-acoustic shows as he does full-band shows over the course of a year or two - so he figured that his live-disc output wasn't a fully complete reflection of what he does onstage.

"Some fans have been requesting a solo-acoustic live disc for a while, and I had some down time between albums, so this seemed like a good time to do one," says Cockburn, who comes to The Ark on Monday for a sold-out show. Hence, "Slice O Life," the live solo album he just released on March 31 - an ambitious two-disc set drawing from almost all phases of his career.

"I thought that making it two discs would give it more of the feel of a complete live show," says Cockburn, a Canada native who lives in Kingston, Ont.

For years, Cockburn (for the uninitiated, that's pronounced CO-burn) has been lauded for his dazzling guitar chops. His earliest guitar influences were country-blues stalwarts like Big Bill Broonzy, Mississippi John Hurt and Mance Lipscomb, but he's also incorporated world-music styles into his syncopated guitar attack over the years. And he will also let 'er rip on the electric guitar when he's backed by a robust rhythm section.

Bruce Cockburn will play a sold-out show at The Ark on Monday. His new CD, "Slice O Life," was released March 31.

But Cockburn says he still plays his guitar parts the same way on any given song, whether he's backed by a band or on his own. "My songs are compositions with the guitar part as an integral part of the song, so that doesn't really change," he says by phone from a Vail, Colo., tour stop. "Like on 'Rocket Launcher' I'm still playing it the same way I did on the record, except I'm playing it on acoustic."

He's referring to "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" from 1984, one of his most popular songs and a good example of the topical, politically conscious songwriting that has always been a big part of his appeal.

But we can't let someone as politically conscious - and as politically active - as Cockburn off the phone without asking him to share his thoughts on the transition of power in the U.S. from George W. Bush to Barack Obama.

"Well, I feel like most Americans do," he says. "I'm glad Bush is gone, and I think it's fantastic that Obama got elected. But that's tempered by my awareness of how difficult it will be for him to clean up all of the messes made by Bush and his people.

"But I'm still very hopeful, because this was a welcome and important change - and one that was long overdue."


April 15, 2009
McMaster Daily News

McMaster announces honorary degree recipients

Prolific Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn, a pioneer of evidence based medicine, a world renowned art detective, and a local activist who has dedicated her life to raising awareness about ALS, are among the distinguished list of those being awarded honorary degrees at McMaster University's spring convocation.

Approximately 4,500 students will graduate in May and June this year. Honorary degree recipients are recognized for their contributions in such areas as public service, education and scholarship, creative and performing arts, and for their work within the McMaster community.

Please note: Convocation will take place at Hamilton Place, unless otherwise noted below. Where two or more people are listed as honorary degree recipients, an asterisk indicates the recipient will address convocation.

Divinity College
Tuesday, May 19, 8 p.m. (Convocation Hall, McMaster University)
Nancy Bell, active member of the Baptist church, Doctor of Divinity

Lois Crofoot, active member of the Baptist church, Doctor of Laws*

Faculty of Health Sciences
Friday, May 22, 2:30 p.m.

Dr. Alvin Zipursky, chairman and scientific director, The Programme for Global Paediatric Research , The Hospital for Sick Children, Doctor of Science

Dr. David Sackett, a pioneer of evidence based medicine and founder of the first department of clinical epidemiology at McMaster University, Doctor of Science*

Faculty of Humanities/Arts & Science (Art, Art History, Classics, Communication Studies, Comparative Literature, Multimedia, Music, Peace Studies, Philosophy, Theatre and Film Studies, Women's Studies)
Monday, June 8, 9:30 a.m.

Bruce Cockburn, Canadian folk/rock guitarist and singer-songwriter, Doctor of Letters*

Shirley Elford, celebrated Canadian artist and glass blower, Doctor of Letters

Faculty of Humanities (Graduands in a single or combined program with majors in Humanities programs not included in the morning ceremony)
Monday, June 8, 2:30 p.m.

Maurizio Seracini, a world renowned diagnostician of Italian art, Doctor of Letters*

Maximilien Laroche, one of Haiti's foremost intellectuals, working in the areas of Haitian, Quebec and American studies, Doctor of Letters

Faculty of Science (Biochemistry, Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Geoscience, Kinesiology, Molecular Biology, Neural Computation, Psychology, Science)
Tuesday, June 9, 9:30 a.m.

Herbert M. Jenkins, professor emeritus of psychology at McMaster University and the first director of the Arts & Science program, Doctor of Laws

Peter Nicholson, inaugural president and CEO of the Council of Canadian Academies, Doctor of Laws*

Faculty of Science (Graduands in a single or combined program with majors in Science programs not included in the morning ceremony)
Tuesday, June 9, 2:30 p.m.

Sir Martin J. Rees, president of the Royal Society, Doctor of Science

Faculty of Business
Wednesday, June 10, 9:30 a.m.

Charles Coffey, retired executive vice president of government affairs and community development, RBC Financial Group, Doctor of Laws*

John Howard, founder of Megalomaniac Wines, Doctor of Laws

Faculty of Social Sciences (Anthropology, Geography, Labour Studies, Psychology, Social Work, Sociology)
Thursday, June 11, 9:30 a.m.

Philip Awashish, Cree political leader and advisor to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Doctor of Laws

James Bartleman, former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, Doctor of Laws*

Faculty of Social Sciences (Graduands in a single or combined program with majors in Social Science programs not included in the morning ceremony)
Thursday, June 11, 2:30 p.m.

The Honorable R. Roy McMurtry, former Chief Justice of Ontario, High Commissioner to Great Britain and Attorney General for Ontario, Doctor of Laws*

Robert Fitzhenry, director of the Woodbridge Foam Corporation, Doctor of Laws

School of Nursing/Faculty of Science (Medical Radiation Sciences Program)
Friday, June 12, 9:30 a.m.

Dr. Yasmin Noorali Amarsi, interim director of the Human Development Program, Aga Khan University, Doctor of Science*

Elizabeth Grandbois, diagnosed with ALS and passionate activist who has raised awareness about the disease, Doctor of Laws.

Faculty of Engineering
Friday, June 12, 2:30 p.m.

Gilles Patry, former president of the University of Ottawa, Doctor of Laws*

Stephen Elop, president of the Microsoft Business Division, Doctor of Science


April 9, 2009
The Aspen Times (Colorado)

Cockburn displays guitar mastery, diverse songwriting in Aspen
by Stewart Oksenhorn
Photo: Lynn Goldsmith

ASPEN — Exiting the stage after his first set Tuesday night at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House, Bruce Cockburn walked into one of the five guitars arrayed in a semi-circle behind him. The guitar fell to the ground with an amplified crash, putting the usually placid Canadian in a momentary foul mood.

The incident proved that Cockburn does not have complete and total mastery of his instruments. But put a guitar safely in his hands, and he does things that few other musicians can even think of. That the 63-year-old has fabulous technique is a given, but beyond that is an even more singular imagination regarding the instrument.

Performing solo at the Wheeler — and promoting “Slice O Life,” the live solo album he released last week — Cockburn didn’t have a chance to play much lead guitar, per se. Instead, he focused on using chords in inventive, dynamic ways — often while keeping a rhythm by hitting the bass string with his thumb, and occasionally adding electronically looped guitar figures.

But on “The City Is Hungry” Cockburn took on the role of a lead guitarist, part Richard Thompson, part Jimi Hendrix. The solo was a thing of fierce energy — for a while beautiful and jazzy and melodic, and then for a brief moment, breaking down into anarchy, as he played a flurry of notes that had no relationship to one another. And then in the next instant, beauty and order were back. “The City Is Hungry” — which Cockburn mentioned was inspired by Brooklyn, a place he has been spending much time lately — is a new song, and the instrumental break made certain that it earned plenty of attention.

Cockburn is not only an instrumentalist of the first order, but also a distinctive and diverse songwriter with an ability to deliver his ideas effectively. His voice isn’t on a par with his playing, but he makes up for any shortcomings with utter conviction and sincerity. The Wheeler show began on an upbeat note: The folky and optimistic “World of Wonders” opened the show, followed by the sublime “Last Night of the World,” which anticipates not a dark apocalypse, but Champagne with a special person. Later on came the more socio-political material: songs that decried the state of the environment, war and corruption, and a new tune that mocked the Bush administration’s brief, strange effort to rehabilitate the image of Richard Nixon.

And Cockburn had more to offer. His encore opened with “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” a song catchy, simple and popular enough to turn into a group singalong. He followed with “Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long,” which might have been a straight-up blues if only Cockburn weren’t so good at adding sophistication to the simplest structure.

And he left the stage collision-free, leaving the guitar-related errors for the night at one.


Posted: April 4, 2009
Press Release

“Kicking the Darkness”

St. John’s Anglican Church Hosts Bruce Cockburn Event 

For more than thirty-five years Bruce Cockburn has been recognized as one of Canada’s most insightful and musically creative singer/songwriters. Touring his 30th album, Slice of Life, Cockburn brings his one man show to Peterborough’s Showcase Theatre on Tuesday, April 21. 

In celebration of Cockburn’s significant artistic contribution, St. John’s Anglican Church will host an event called “Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Renewal of a Christian Imagination” on Sunday, April 19 beginning at 6pm. Local singer/songwriter Sarah Loucks will be performing a number of Cockburn songs in support of a lecture by Dr. Brian Walsh. Walsh has been writing articles and reviews of Cockburn’s work for many years, specifically reflecting on Cockburn’s Christian faith and the power of his songs to awaken a Christian imagination. 

“Cockburn has never shied away from identifying himself as a Christian, though he has always been clear to distinguish himself from what he considers dangerous and unattractive expressions of Christian faith,” Walsh says. “My point isn’t to put Cockburn into some kind of religious box, but to explore creatively the rich spiritual images and themes in his work. Anyone drawn to Bruce’s music should enjoy this evening.” 

Cockburn is also well-known for his work on behalf of various social justice and environmental organizations. In that spirit, all the proceeds from this event ($10.00 suggested donation) will be donated in support of the “Our Space Community Centre” and its work amongst the homeless of Peterborough. For more information contact Christian Smith at St. John’s Church .


April 5, 2009
Aspen Times Weekly

Bruce Cockburn: A ‘Slice O’ Live’ in Aspen
His latest CD is a solo smorgasbord of vintage material
by John Colson

ASPEN — Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn returns to the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen on April 7, and he says he’ll feel right at home, even though the last time he was here was in 2004, at least as far as he can recall.

Since he will be continuing the habit of solo, or nearly solo touring that began back in the 1990s, the show will feel familiar to his more dedicated fans. His set list will be made up largely of songs from his newly released CD “Slice O’ Life,” a two-disc collection of live performances drawn from 10 stops on a tour in May 2008.

“Aspen is a great place to play,” said the musician by telephone, as he drove between San Francisco and Tuscon, Ariz.

He said he has had “great skiing experiences” in his past Aspen gigs, and he has enjoyed the interplay with the audiences here. He seemed to wince when told that the snow is pretty good right now — and likely will still be good when he gets here next week — because he won’t have time to ski this go-round due to a cramped touring schedule.

All 25 songs on Cockburn’s new compilation are drawn from his own broad repertoire — tunes he minted himself and has perfected over the years. And with this collection, Cockburn has fashioned a powerful look back at his musical legacy, with his inimitable spicy wit and barbed political sensibilities woven into complex and often haunting melodies.

The only new song on the CD is a tune called “The City is Hungry,” drawn from his having spent considerable stretches of time in Brooklyn, N.Y., in recent years. It is a bluesy, soulful ballad, with Cockburn’s plaintive voice stretched over simple, blues-tinted runs on his guitar.

The song list is sprinkled with his few U.S. hits, including rollicking renderings of “Wondering Where The Lions Are,” “If A Tree Falls,” “If I Had A Rocket Launcher” and a couple of others, as well as rearrangements of fan favorites such as “How I Spent My Fall Vacation,” “Tibetan Side of Town” (a hearkening to his travels to the Far East) and “Put It In Your Heart.”

Aside from the music, Cockburn treats the listener to his patter between songs, a mini-monologues that showcase his quiet humor and self-deprecating nature.

For example, leading into “Tramps On The Street,” he talks about his hometown of Kingston, Ontario, and the fact that “the bums there all know who I am” and recognize him on the street, interrupting their panhandling routine to chat with him.

“I don’t know what it means, that those are the people that are my demographic, in the town I live in, but there you are,” he said, getting a laugh from the audience.

In the CD liner notes, which were written by Cockburn, he tells consumers, “We’ve made an effort to put them together as one show, in the hope of giving you the feeling of being present in the flesh. For the same reason, we chose not to apply too much polish. What you hear is what it was.” He explained by telephone that the audience sounds and performances were mixed and matched to give as seamless an approximation of one, solid show as possible.

Cockburn said he plans to concentrate on the new CD in his Aspen performance, both because he enjoys playing the songs and because he is, technically speaking, on a promotional tour and that is what is expected.

Although, he conceded, “because of the nature of the album, it [the tour] is a little shorter and there’s less of it. It’s a tour-ette.”

Asked if that means the show will be spiced up with sudden outbursts of obscene language and derogatory remarks about, say, the social elitism many equate with Aspen [as in Tourette’s syndrome], Cockburn chuckled and replied, “No. I try to keep that under control.”

Seriously, though, he said the tour is designed as a low-key affair — as is the CD.

Aside from the songs on the CD, Cockburn said he may venture into some of the tunes he has written lately as he prepares to go into the studio to cut a new CD.

One such new song, grew out of an attempt during the George W. Bush years in the White House to “rehabilitate the image of [former President] Richard Nixon. It struck me, what would it mean to really rehabilitate Richard Nixon.”

So he wrote a song, in the first person, about Nixon reincarnated as a black, single mother trying to make it in a white world.

“It’s kind of a personal song,” he said, “and it’s not, really, that dark.” He said he may play it in the Aspen show.

Cockburn is not sure what the new album/CD will be, although he has a number of songs written already and “a few people that I want to be involved with” in the studio.

Somewhat submerged these days is the incendiary Canadian whose politically charged, electrified, group-backed style in the 1980s scored several hits on the U.S. charts. This was a departure for a singer-songwriter who has typically been ignored by the music industry in this country, despite the apparent recognition of his abilities that lead him to be picked to open for a Jimi Hendrix show in Montreal in 1968.

What we have now is Cockburn, now 63, polishing his peerless guitar style on tours where he is either alone or with a backup musician or two.

He calls his newest tunes “folky” and isn’t quite sure yet if his upcoming studio sessions will be just him, or will feature one of a couple of new musicians he has allied with recently.

“It’s quite folky, which surprised me,” he noted. “I suspected I’d be doing something much more noisy. I have this deep urge to make anarchic, destructive noise. But, it didn’t work out that way.”

Although he conceded that some of his fans accuse him of mellowing over time, Cockburn said, “I don’t particularly feel mellow. I feel quite stressed a lot of the time.”

But the new CD sure doesn’t reflect that stress, giving listeners a front-row seat at what appears to have been a long and happy concert event.


Slice O Life - Live Solo

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Though Bruce Cockburn's name will not be a new one to most readers of this forum, there are a couple little-known side facts that might provoke an eyebrow or two to raise for a moment and perhaps a small chuckle of mirth to escape from lips. Early in his formative career, Cockburn joined a couple of groups, then went on to form The Flying Circus (eventually renamed Olivus) with a guy named Neil Lillie, who was to leave the ensemble, change his name to Neil Merryweather, and issue a series of LPs under the new surname, later under the full stage name, then in a trio (Merryweather, Richardson & Boers), not to mention a duo (Merryweather & Carey) featuring a singer, Lynn Carey, who formed Mama Lion with Merryweather on bass. She went on to pose for Penthouse magazine and Merryweather kept seeking the big time in a blues and psych-rock basis. Too bad he didn't stick with Cockburn, as Olivus opened for The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream in '68…just after Neil departed. Ironic. Oh, and Bruce appeared on Saturday Night Live as well.

Merryweather never went much of anywhere, and his last two tries followed Iron Butterfly's closing LP pair in a synchronous plummet to psychedelic mediocrity. If it's any consolation to him, though, his works are now minor cult items in the collector market and not easy to find. Cockburn, on the other hand, dropped the drug environment and mindbending music, became a Christian, some say a mystic Christian, and began an inexorable climb to ever-widening success. With this release, his oeuvre numbers in excess of 30 releases (anthologies included).

Early on, he issued Circles in the Stream, a double live LP, with an excellent backing band, producing a scintillating brace of tracks that helped curry aficionados to an ever deeper appreciation of the man's many talents. Two more live discs arose between then and now, and this is the fourth but his first solo recital live—just Cockburn, a guitar, and an effects unit. What's most surprising is how little has changed over the decades: his voice is confident and clear, lyrics as humanist as ever, and his fingerpicking just marvelous. In fact, all three may well be more polished than before—it's hard to tell with someone eternally at the top of his game. What Slice O Life is, then, is a harkening back to basics, to folkrock rudiments, while looking ever forward, especially in the writer's concern for his fellow man.

Bruce's handling of his axe is so delicate and complex that he lacks not a moment for magical sounds, feathering his distinctive voice in an atmospheric rainbow of sparkling glints and shimmering colors. Nor is his passion difficult to mistake, going from the contemplative to firm admonitions in his biggest hit If I Had a Rocket Launcher (a sentiment and determination the Left could do with a lot more of), convincing the audience of enthusiastic listeners here of the need to not disregard one's milieu or the possibility of crushing the evils surrounding us. A good deal of Cockburn's concerns zero in on being one's own and one's fellow's keeper…as a certain well-known anarchistic individual long ago instructed in Nazareth and thereabouts.

This double-CD, then, is a long immersion in what an individual and his art are capable of and a reminder to never forget that life is lived every moment, as skillfully as can be managed, radiantly if possible. The entire gig is completely engaging, accompanied by a number of spoken insights and humorous asides between cuts, mesmerizing when the composer is in his constantly unfolding troubadour persona. The entire affair goes far to resuscitate the essentiality of a single human being pouring himself out to others, standing as an exposition of what's possible if we have the heart and discipline to follow our calling. More importantly, though, it's proof that as the more centered of the Baby Boom generation ages, it's doing so neither quietly nor without reproof for historic wrongs…but also too often, as the composer is quick to point out, without the sigh of introspection.

Disc One

World of Wonders
Lovers in a Dangerous Time
The Mercenary
See You Tomorrow
Last Night of the World
How I Spent My Fall Vacation
Tibetan Side of Town
Pacing the Cage
Bearded Folksinger
The End of all Rivers
Soul of a Man

Disc Two

Wait No More
The City is Hungry
Put It in Your Heart
Tramps in the Street
Wondering Where the Lions Are
If a Tree Falls
Celestial Horses
If I Had a Rocket Launcher
Child of the Wind
Tie Me at the Crossroads
12-String Warm-Up
Kit Carson
Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long


February 18, 2009

Bruce's performance on eTown in Fort Collins, Colorado on February 18, 2009, will air the week of April 1-7, 2009. Find a station near you.

Photos from the performance compliments of Tim Reese and eTown.


March 21, 2009

Artist: Bruce Cockburn
Title: Slice O Life
Format: Double CD
Label: True North Records TND520 (Canada)
Release Date: 31 March 2009 
Reviewed by Richard Hoare

The two and a half live albums already in Cockburn’s catalogue feature a jazz trio in 1977, stick and drum wonderment in 1989, and a rock sound in 1997. The first two albums both include examples of Bruce playing solo. However, this new double CD album produced by Colin Linden is the first wholly live solo recording. The sleeve notes are by Bruce himself and the following extract assists in understanding what you hear:- 

“These performances are drawn from ten concerts recorded in May '08. We've made an effort to put them together as one show, in the hope of giving you the feeling of being present in the flesh. For the same reason, we chose not to apply too much polish. What you hear is what it was.” 

Before the paying audience ever hears Bruce play a note of a show he has often played a complete set in the sound check earlier in the day which contributes enormously to why generally he is so good in concert. The sound check here includes Bruce warming up on his twelve string guitar which evolves into part of The Trains Don't Go There Anymore which is a better performance than his studio version on the 2008 CD Dancing Alone – Songs of William Hawkins. Cockburn continues with a slow exploratory Kit Carson which ends with a flaring noise from his guitar effect, prompting a quip about its resemblance to automatic weapon fire! The bluesy Mama Just Wants To Barrelhouse All Night Long provides the canvas for Bruce to open up and improvise. 

All artists settle into a live performance which is a combination of a whole host of factors including the vibe from the auditorium which is now full of people. What I wasn’t prepared for was that the CD has been sequenced so that there are several tracks of Bruce settling into the gig. The re-arranged solo version of World Of Wonders has been one of my in-concert favourites since I heard him play it in Glasgow in 2002 at the end of the gig. The version here is not as ethereal as I have heard live before and See You Tomorrow suffers from strained vocals. I am also a little disconcerted by the raucous audience which seems to take away some of the gravitas from this world class performer. 

For me the set really kicks in five numbers into the CD with a fine rendition of How I Spent My Fall Vacation, which is prefaced with a completely left field reference – 25 seconds of what sounds like the melody of Silhouettes by The Diamonds, a Canadian group, which reached No.10 in Billboard in 1957. It was then a hit again for Herman’s Hermits in1965 on both sides of the Atlantic.

Bruce then hits his stride with a blistering take of Tibetan Side of Town, which is followed by an appropriately slow world weary Pacing The Cage. In fact, for me this latter track and Celestial Horses, later in the set, are better performances than their studio counterparts. End Of All Rivers is the instrumental of the set and is a fine example of what you can do with a delay effect and imagination. Disc one ends with Soul Of A Man, one of very few cover versions that made it onto one of his regular releases. He dug deep into the original Blind Willie Johnson performance and makes it his own. 

Disc two starts off flying with Wait No More with that great strident middle-eastern urgency. The only new number is City Is Hungry which is, by his own admission, tentative and comprises observations of New York where Bruce has been spending a proportion of his time recently. From this slow blues Bruce launches into the other dazzling take of the record, Put In It Your Heart. 

It is strange when there were ten performances to choose from that, to my ears, the dynamite performances are found in the less well known songs. 

A selection of the performances as snapshots are well described by the term Slice O Life but the material and the “between song” stories, which often have a playful quality, are the Body O Work viz:- 

Wondering Where The Lions Are – The breakthrough single that went to the top 40 in 1980 in the US.
Lovers In a Dangerous Time – U2 borrowed a line from this 1983 single for their song God Part II.
If I Had A Rocket Launcher – The other song from 1983 that garnered so much controversial press in the US.
World Of Wonders – A timeless universal lyric from the 1985 album of the same name.
If A Tree Falls – The ecology single from 1988 that received widespread radio play.
Tibetan Side of Town – An example of Cockburn’s well observed travels.
Put It In Your Heart – Bruce’s response to 9/11.
Child Of The Wind – An autobiographical tale of being out on the road till the end of his days.
Tie Me At The Crossroads … “when I die” sings Bruce. The blues myth is that you went to the crossroads to sell your soul to the devil! 

If you are a long term fan then you might be over familiar with some of this material, but this is a very cleverly compiled double CD which is in effect a Story of Bruce Cockburn.



Posted: March 18, 2009
From Finkelstein Management

Pete Seeger is turning 90 years old on Sunday, May 3rd. We’re going to have a big ol’ party/fundraiser at Madison Square Garden to mark the occasion. All of the proceeds raised will go directly to The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, an environmental charity that Pete started back in 1966 to help clean up the Hudson River. 

Pete’s work as a musician, environmentalist, educator and activist has been a huge inspiration for me. I’m thrilled to have been asked to be a part of this sing-a-long celebration. Hope to see you there. It should be a blast!




March 14, 2009

Bruce Cockburn: Slice O Life
Live Solo - True North

In a career honed and burnished over the past 40 years, Canada's own Bruce Cockburn has uniquely crafted mastery of four special musical tools in a world where most would be happy with skills in just one.

He writes exquisite lyrics with a poet's grace, a chronicler's precision, and a prophet's clarity.

He delivers these lyrics with a unique and passionate voice.

He pens melodies that range from jazzy progressions and other intricate designs to simply beautiful folk, pop and blues tunes.

He plays various guitars and stringed instruments with incredible skill and aplomb.

Those gifts triumphantly come together on a double live solo CD set for release March 31.

Slice O Life is the fourth live Cockburn album over the years, but it is the first in a solo setting. Part of this is the wonderful collision between commercial reality and artistic opportunity.

Cockburn's biggest Billboard hit came 30 years ago, and his days as a touring act with a full band peaked in the 1980s. In recent years, he has steadily performed his ever-growing canon of songs with one or two backing musicians or solo.

This album comprises 19 songs from solo shows in May 2008 concerts in the northeastern U.S. and Quebec.

Cockburn's shows have had certain patterns in recent years, and this collection reflects these.

They include the regular placement of his 1984 song Lovers In A Dangerous Time in the two slot and the later inclusion of his only real U.S. hit Wondering Where The Lions Are complete with audience singalong.

These songs, and other inclusions like 1988's If A Tree Falls, 1999's Last Night Of The World, and 2003's Put It In Your Heart show Cockburn's knack for a mid-tempo pop groove that has both a distinctive flair and peerless guitar licks to carry the distinctive and well-constructed rhythms and melodies.

They are also, to a one, songs that have a clear message from a man whose role as a world troubadour and shaman has been a hallmark of his work from the mid 70s onward.

Every Cockburn fan will have an "aha" moment or two on Slice O Life, and they may well come from the less widely-known gems.

He shows his one-man-band abilities as a guitarist, fusing rich and jazzy treble licks and bedrock bass notes conjuring up images of great musical forebears like Big Bill Broonzy in the 1988 travelogue Tibetan Side Of Town, the cover of Blind Willie Johnson's Soul Of A Man whose lyric line gave the album title to 1991's Nothing But A Burning Light, the 2003 reflection Wait No More, the instrumental The End Of All Rivers which was part of the 2005 disc Speechless, and the brand new The City Is Hungry.

At such moments, people unfamiliar with just how much Cockburn can do may check the liner notes to see who stepped in one second guitar for these tracks. They can look and look, but it is all one person, as Cockburn moves through the set using guitars made by fellow Canuck Lynda Manzer. He shows his ability to offer travelogues of his many journeys, beginning this 2 CD set with a show opener of the title track from the 1986 album World Of Wonders.

The most striking song of this sort on this set is one of the earlier parts of that canon, the 1980 song How I Spent My Fall Vacation. He shows an equal gift of reach into his own heart and soul and taps into ours.

While all of his songs do this, his personal chronicles like 1996's Pacing The Cage and the less frequently played Child Of the Wind from 1991 are beautiful in their relative melodic simplicity.

In the process, they allow the bare message to keep centre stage. There is also plenty of evidence of the wry and twisted humour that people experience when they see Cockburn live, be it in the three included pre-song raves or the concert closing 1994 track Tie Me At The Crossroads.

Fleshed out with 18 minutes of recording from a soundcheck, this is an album which will thrill people who have followed Cockburn's career for these many years.

As he approaches his 64th birthday, he also offers a nice one-package synopsis of where he has been, where he is, and where he is going for more casual fans.

Fredericton-based freelance writer Wilfred Langmaid has reviewed albums in The Daily Gleaner since 1981, and is a past judge for both the Junos and the East Coast Music Awards. His column appears each Saturday.


Posted: March 14, 2009

Bruce Cockburn Signs with The Agency Group

LOS ANGELES (Top40 Charts/ Agency Group) - Jack Ross, Senior Vice President of The Agency Group Canada is proud to announce the signing of one of the country's most beloved and accomplished musicians, Bruce Cockburn.

Bruce Cockburn's career includes 30 albums, 20 gold and platinum records in Canada, and countless concert performances since he released his first solo work in 1970.

He has received many honours, including inductions to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1982 and has since been promoted to 'Officer', and he was recognized with the Tenco Award for Lifetime Achievement in Italy. His hit songs like 'Lovers in a Dangerous Time' and 'Wondering Where the Lions Are' have become staples of the Canadian soundtrack. 

'I have been a lifelong Bruce Cockburn fan and it is an honour and a thrill to represent Bruce for live engagements.' - Jack Ross

As a long-time client of music business legend Bernie Finkelstein (True North Records), Bruce Cockburn has not had an exclusive Canadian agent in his 35+ years of touring until now.

"Both Bruce and myself are looking forward to working with Jack and The Agency Group. Jack has proven himself to not only be a great agent but also a brilliant strategist and we're happy to be part of the team.' - Bernie Finkelstein


February 15, 2009
Edmonton Journal

Young bluegrass trio far from green
Ontario brothers, still just in their teens, have played musical festivals for years
by Peter North

When the elder spokesman of a band is a whopping 18 years of age, one might expect to be introduced to an individual who falls a bit short in the experience department.

Not so in the case of John Abrams, who is a not only an outstanding musician, but a well-spoken young man who has a story to tell, and many more in the making.

As a member of the Kingston, Ont.-based Abrams Brothers, Abrams, along with his brother, James, and cousin Elijah, has lived a life in music that bears some comparisons to that of a young Marty Stuart.

Having been introduced to bluegrass by the time he could tie his shoes, John and his brother found themselves on festival stages on both sides of the border long before they entered their teens. These Canadian kids were not only making the hardcore, weekend bluegrass crowds sit up and take notice, the Abrams were impressing bluegrass legends like Ralph Stanley.

"This all started with very supportive parents who have a lot of faith in James and I," says John, who triples on guitar, mandolin and fiddle. "We actually got our start in the family band, and over time took more spots in the show.

"But there was a sense that what we were doing was going to be something special."

Their supportive parents took many a road trip to Nashville, where the brothers would end up playing the Station Inn, where it isn't unusual to see players like Vince Gill or Sam Bush come out of the audience to sit in with one of their favourite acts.

"There are a lot of open minds in Nashville and the reception to our music was amazing," John says. "We ended up playing the Grand Old Opry in 2005 as guests of Mike Snider, the great clawhammer banjo player. That was a milestone for us."

While the elder Abrams was recently accepted to Queen's University, music continues to be his focus. The brothers' recently released disc, Blue on Brown, makes a strong case that college can wait for awhile.

The disc pays tribute to the music of both Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie. Produced by former Bourbon Tabernacle Choir leader Chris Brown, who has worked with Ani DiFranco and the Barenaked Ladies, Blue On Brown is "a roots-rock record" in John's mind.

"It brings in the bluegrass tradition, and both Dylan and Guthrie come from a deep folk background," he says. "It is a successful clash of ideas."

Highlights of the 12-song collection include takes of Guthrie's Cooper's Lament and Last to Leave. They sit nicely alongside an interpretation of Oklahoma Hills, which was penned by Arlo's father and uncle Woody and Jack. On the Dylan side of the ledger, Mr. Tambourine Man and Shelter From The Storm are winners, as is the group's latest single, a zesty reworking of Dylan's Gotta Serve Somebody.

With cousin Elijah handling the bass chores, a string of ringers also made themselves available for the album sessions. Willie Nelson's harp player, Mickey Raphael, is heard on Last Train, and Bruce Cockburn added his voice to Gotta Serve Somebody.

Look for the Abrams Brothers to be a driving force on the Canadian roots scene for years to come.

The Northern Bluegrass Circle presents festival-circuit faves Hungry Hill tonight at the Stanley Milner Library.

The quintet is defined by a superb vocal blend. The group's most recognizable member is B.C. songbird Jenny Lester, whose fine solo albums over the years include the acclaimed Friends Like You.

Lester's "hill country" vocals were a drawing card for fans at the Blueberry Festival and Full Moon Folk Club shows, where she previously worked with members of Jerusalem Ridge. With Hungry Hill, her voice is surrounded by strong harmonies and some fireball banjo playing from Alaskan picker Gary Markley.

The group has recorded one album for Caribou Records, a self-titled effort produced by ex-Undertakin' Daddies leader Bob Hamilton, who helped the band define its sound.

Tickets for tonight's show are available at the door at $20 for Northern Bluegrass Circle members, and $25 for all others. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the music begins at 7:30.

© The Edmonton Journal 2009


Posted: January 20, 2009 (Vancouver, BC)

Larger Than Life: upcoming aboriginal Canadian concert film
by Craig Takeuchi

No, it has nothing to do with that horrible Backstreet Boys/Men song.

Larger Than Life is a two-hour concert film that showcases five of the top Canadian aboriginal musical acts.

The diverse talent includes Jason Burnstick, Marc Nadjiwan, Sierra Noble, The Johnnys, and Plex. There’s also a special guest appearance by Bruce Cockburn. All were filmed on stage at the Revival Theatre in Toronto, sponsored by the Aboriginal People’s Television Network. There’ll also be interviews with the artists.

It’ll be shown next week on Wednesday, January 28 in high-definition and digital surround sound at select Cineplex Entertainment theatres across Canada.

Tickets go on sale this Friday (January 16) at the Cineplex Web site.

In the Lower Mainland, the film will screen at:

• Scotiabank Theatre Vancouver
• SilverCity Coquitlam
• SilverCity Riverport (Richmond)
• SilverCity Metropolis (Burnaby)


January 15, 2009
The Mississauga News

Local label carries singer's live solo debut
By: John Stewart

Bruce Cockburn's first-ever solo live recording will be issued this spring on the Mississauga-based True North record label.

Called Slice of Life, the CD features some of the Canadian troubadour's most famous songs over his lengthy career, in which he has issued 29 previous records.

The album, recorded last spring at various concerts in the northeastern U.S., emphasizes Cockburn's enormous talent as a guitar player, something critics have long admired.

The Ottawa-born singer kicks off another tour this April in Arizona. The only Canadian date confirmed is an April 21 concert in Peterborough.

Cockburn has been on the True North label his entire recording career.

Mississauga resident Geoff Kulawick, owner and president of Linus Entertainment, brokered a deal with two other financiers to buy the iconic True North label from founder Bernie Finkelstein just over one year ago.

Shortly after the deal was struck, Kulawick said in an interview with The News that outstanding Canadian artists such as Cockburn, who has maintained a strong career over 35 years, are a large part of the pioneering success of True North.

Kulawick is a particular fan of Cockburn's song, If I Had A Rocket Launcher.

"That's why I got in the business," said Kulawick. "Songs like that still have the power to change the world."

Slice of Life will be issued on the Rounder label in the U.S.

-My thanks to John Stewart for his permission to post this article. Photo: Andrew Stawicki- TheToronto Star, 2003

© Daniel Keebler 1993-2023