Media 2011

December 23, 2011

Bruce Cockburn Offers Some Measures of Comfort
by John Patrick Gatta

It’s not surprising to find Canadian singer, songwriter and humanitarian Bruce Cockburn calling from San Francisco. The West Coast has become a second home due to lengthy stays to be with his girlfriend. Not fond of air travel, he’s driven there multiple times, and previously to her former residence in Brooklyn. The meditative abilities brought on by the open road have become a significant source of inspiration. The miles spent on North American highways enabled him to write the material for his current album, Small Source of Comfort.

As he describes in the liner notes, he “had a vision of music, electric and noisy, with gongs and jackhammer and fiercely distorted guitars.” Instead, the solitude of driving plus the discovery of violinist Jenny Scheinman led to an intimate and introspective set of acoustic tunes that blend folk, blues, jazz and rock. Despite the lack of volume, the songs maintain a significant intellectual and emotional impact that’s customary for Cockburn, who has mixed personal and social politics over 31 studio albums. Relying on a sense of movement that mimics their creation, the songs become reflections that pass by like mile markers. Later, those interior musings branch out and acknowledge the fragility of existence when he recounts a Ramp Ceremony held for a fallen soldier in Kandahar, Afghanistan during “Each One Lost.” Still, it’s not all drama and darkness. A perverse sense of humor pops up where least expected. Besides the occasional lines, there is the scenario of “Call Me Rose,” where he imagines Richard Nixon reincarnated as a single mother with two children living in a housing project.

My conversation with Cockburn can’t help but mix music, politics, war and social change because that’s the landscape where his four decades as a solo artist resides.

JPG: With the Occupy Movement gaining steam but also attracting enemies, and your lengthy background with humanitarian efforts, I’m curious…how does one stay positive?

BC: (laughs) Umm…I think your ability to be positive depends on what you think the bottom line is in a way, and to some extent on  your experiences, too, obviously. If you meet impressive people and get energized and feel like things can move in a positive direction because of those people then, of course, you’re going to have a more generally positive feeling about everything. And the opposite is also true. For me I don’t think about it much. I guess, I feel generally hopeful in my life but when I look around I can’t find a logical excuse for that. (slight laugh) So, it comes down to what’s in my heart, and I suppose no matter what happens to humanity the planet will continue, the universe will continue. If there’s a master plan for it all that will continue. We will have been, perhaps, disruptive of it for a moment or two but I don’t like to look at it that way. I feel like we have to promote the best in ourselves and hang on to that as a source of energy to, if not fix things, at least keep them from getting so bad that we can’t stand it, that we can’t survive it.

JPG: It correlates for me to the title of your album, Small Source of Comfort. Finding something to hold on to, savor the little victories.

BC: Yes. That’s okay to take it that way. When I gave the album that title, it’s a line from a song (“Five Fifty-One”). I just felt that the phrase itself made an effective title. I wasn’t thinking too much about what I was promoting by calling it that. In the song, of course, it’s a bit ironic because a small source of comfort, the sun came up. Okay. (laughs) This is the best that we can do. And some days it is the best that you can do. You’re not dead and neither is the world, but, other days, of course, things feel better.

I’m not offering myself as a small source of comfort although people have come back at me with that notion. I think looking at love and looking at beauty and looking at all these things that are still strong in us and in the world, regardless of the trouble we’re in, it’s easier to operate and easier to feel like you’re moving forward and, maybe, genuinely move forward. So, if the album points at anything to do with comfort it’s that.

JPG: When you mention that it’s meant to be ironic – the idea that the sun coming up being a small source of comfort – but there are lines throughout the album that offer brief moments of humor. Even “Lois on the Autobahn” in its own way because the actual road has cars rushing by at 100-120 miles per hour, or whatever it translates to in meters, but the song sounds like a light little ditty, a relaxing drive in the country.

BC: (laughs as I struggle to translate miles into meters) I’m old enough to be a veteran of miles. It is kind of humorous. Like instrumental pieces, they’re not about anything. They’re just a collection of notes that, hopefully, makes some sense and starts somewhere and goes somewhere and makes you feel something. But you have to give them titles. In that case everybody who heard it said, ‘Oh, it reminds me of being on the road or driving’, certainly not in the 120 mile-an-hour autobahn but just of being on the highway. My mom died that summer and it just seemed like she would appreciate being put on the autobahn. I don’t think she would have been happy with the 120 miles-an-hour thing but it just seemed like her moving on, her sailing on to wherever she goes next. It’s a light-hearted look at death. (laughs)

JPG: But the humor is a bit surprising because, overall, you’re viewed as a serious artist. A lot of people may even view you as angry. ‘He’s that guy who’s gonna use his rocket launcher once he gets one…’

BC: Yeah, I would have preferred a smiling picture [on CD cover], actually, but we didn’t have one that had the same graphic power that that had. So, we decided to use that. Sorry to interrupt you there.

JPG: No, that’s fine. That’s the way of a conversation. Is there a certain responsibility you have by being Bruce Cockburn, where you can’t be stinking drunk in public or you can’t walk out of a McDonald’s?

BC: I’ve done both of those things, certainly often, actually, over the years. Often may be overstating it but it’s not an uncommon thing on the highway. When you’re driving, sometimes McDonald’s is the only option. It’s not my preference, that’s for sure. There’s a certain responsibility I feel to be truthful in my art and be as good at it as I can be but I don’t feel that I have a responsibility beyond that to my audience particularly. I guess, if the art was completely inconsistent with how I lived there would be something wrong. It wouldn’t be truthful. Having said that, I like to drink wine. I like to laugh. Occasionally, even force myself to dance. I do all kinds of silly things.

People tend to take things seriously. It’s one thing to take your art seriously or your work, whatever it happens to be. I think it’s appropriate to do that and be as good as you can be at whatever you’re doing. But sometimes, people forget that we all have the capacity to party a bit and we all have the need to let off steam and you can’t be serious all the time or you crumble. A great illustration of that came back in the early ‘80s when I first started to travel, when I first went to Nicaragua, for instance, and all the people I knew that were involved in solidarity work with Central America were terribly serious and terribly official and everything was heavy duty. You get down there and people are in a friggin’ war for their survival and they’re partying at every opportunity, dancing and laughing. You think, ‘Oh yeah. Right.’ There’s a perspective here that we found. The perspective in that case was that the people who were really in it cherish every opportunity to celebrate life because it may end. And, of course, we’re all in that boat. Most of us can ignore it most of the time. But if you live in Iraq or if you live in Afghanistan or…Afghans are not famous for their partying, I guess, but Baghdad used to be famous as a party town before Bush invaded it. The capacity is there. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all. I think it’s totally healthy. If all you do is party there’s a problem there, too. But if you party instead of looking at reality, well, that’s a problem. You need to loosen up from time to time for your own survival.

JPG: That reminds me of friends of mine who were getting their masters degrees and wrote their papers on the Holocaust. Due to  all the really depressing and shocking research that was involved their advisor recommended that in order to get their minds off the subject they should pay attention to something totally mindless…which is how they became fans of wrestling and NASCAR.

BC: (laughs) I totally get that, especially about NASCAR. (laughs) But it’s exciting — things that roar and go fast. That is exciting. I totally get it. The Holocaust is not…every time we learn something new about it it gets worse, and you think what you knew about it 30 years ago seemed to be as bad as it ever needed to get, but as more information surfaces, and people doing research like that, it gets worse and worse. Then, of course, you look around and you can find people doing a less scientific version of the same thing, where possible, today in the world and…you have to be able to step away from that.

JPG: You mentioned Afghanistan earlier. Are you familiar with the books Fire and War by Sebastian Junger.

BC: I know the name but I haven’t read his books.

JPG: The reason I bring it up is I recently finished Fire, which is a collection of his magazine articles with much of it finding him at one war-torn area after another. And it was interesting that in the later chapters he touched on the situation in Afghanistan as far as the political climate after the Soviets left and how the Taliban filled a void and took power in the area before 9/11.

BC: Which they’re going to do again. Talking about depressing outcomes. There’s a few good books on Afghanistan. I can’t remember the names of the authors but there’s a Canadian journalist who spent a lot of time with the Mujahedeen when they were fighting the Russians, who are essentially the same people, and he wrote a book called “War at the Top of the World.” He writes for one of the Toronto papers. It’s a powerful book about his experiences and his take on what it is we, quote unquote, are fighting.

It’s a tricky thing. From a military point of view if you’re gonna get into a war like that you’ve gotta be like the Romans. You’ve gotta be totally ruthless. You’ve gotta be so bad that you win. And as bad as we can be, we’ll never let ourselves be that bad. Thank God. The Romans went to war against Carthage. Okay, after three wars with them, they finally decided they had enough and they just exterminated the population, sold the survivors into slavery and bulldozed the city, basically plowed it under. There was absolutely nothing left. And if we want to beat someone like the Taliban and get them out of the world, that’s the way to do it but we’re not going to do that and I’m not suggesting we should. But if you’re not going to do that, don’t expect to win the war. You’ve gotta find some other way to get the job done than just beating them up. There was a U.S. Senator whose name I forget because I never quite noticed it who a couple years ago proposed the idea that we should buy the Afghan farmers’ opium at a rate higher than the Taliban are able to pay. And let them be the supply to the world because they’re growing it anyway. We need it. There’s a use for it, and let it be legitimate. That would take at least that aspect of the financing right out of the Taliban’s sack of resources and give those farmers a profitable thing to do, etc, etc. It just seemed like a really good idea, but there was a lobby against it by whoever controls the current supply of opium, the legitimate supply.

JPG: Isn’t there a saying, something like, ‘Winning the war with chocolates.’ That may have been the idea, maybe it was during World War II, of being friendly to the locals and getting them on your side.

BC: I think in World War II it wasn’t so much a question of winning over the locals because the locals were pretty pissed at the Germans already. They didn’t really need winning over but, although I guess, some of them were profiting from it, as people will.

With respect to Central America back in the day I felt that if somebody just went out, put in electrical power everywhere in Nicaragua and bought everybody a fridge, there would be no revolution. Everybody’d be comfortable enough that they wouldn’t need to revolt, even if their leaders were as brutal and horrible as they were, not the Sandinistas but their predecessors. There was a real good reason for a revolution in Nicaragua and part of the reason had to do with the complete absence of basic comforts and the ability to live a decent life. Had there been that ability, there probably wouldn’t have been a revolution. It’s hard to imagine a revolution in Canada, for instance, because everybody’s too damn comfortable. You could imagine an American revolution coming out of the South or coming out of Harlem or coming out of places where everyone has been foreclosed upon. The comfort factor is a major one when it comes to political upheaval.

JPG: That goes back to the Occupy Movement and people stepping up because they’ve had enough. And it’s grown to cities all over the world including Canada.

BC: Well, I haven’t been in Canada for quite awhile but I do read the news. The issue is very very real and very global. It’s hard to know enough if the people involved will go far enough, and I don’t mean pulling out guns and stuff, but stick to it long enough and putting pressure on to actually make any changes. But it’s certainly worthwhile. It feels good to see it happen, to see people in this thing, to having finally after…How long have we been living in globalization, like 30 years or more?

At the end of the ‘70s I was flying back from Japan, and the promoters in Japan had bought me a first class ticket. I was sitting next to this Japanese guy and we got to talking. Turns out he was a Japanese representative to the World Bank, and this was like ’78 or thereabouts. He was going on about how there was this new vision for how the world economy would work, and under this vision they would just be able to move industry to wherever it was most profitable. And I said, ‘Well, what about the work force. What are you gonna do about the people?’ ‘Oh, we’ll just move the people.’ In fact that isn’t what they did. They just abandoned the people but at that stage it was like, ‘If we need the population to move somewhere we’ll just move them.’ Never mind if they want to or not. It was very disturbing to hear this offered as his vision of the future, apparently the World Bank’s vision of the future, and yet that’s exactly where it went.

Okay, now in 2011 we have a group of Americans who’ve become numerous enough and pissed enough to actually get out in the streets and say, ‘Stop.’ But where were they for 30 years. (slight laugh) This stuff isn’t new. It’s just that Americans have been victims of it over the last decade, give or take a year or two, but it’s really this last decade where it’s come home to roost. And it’s not going to go away. I don’t think this Occupy Movement is really gonna… I’m going to stop short of saying what I was about to say but I’ll finish the thought. The thought was, I don’t think they’re going to succeed in changing much but I’ll reserve judgment on that because I feel like they might. It wouldn’t be the first time that a major popular movement, if it gets popular enough, had a positive effect on things. That’s how we got slavery banned. That’s how we got the Vietnam War ended. There’s always other factors. There’s always somebody’s loss of revenue involved. So, it has to come down to people being willing to inconvenience themselves to the point where they’re taking revenue away from somebody to get noticed, to get taken seriously enough that the ruling elements don’t feel that they can control it all with police action.

JPG: It’s interesting because things seem to move so quickly now that it may happen in this case – positive or negative – or if like any other movement, such as those against the Vietnam War; people come together but it takes years and years before there’s a result. So, it’s possible that we’ve hit a point where people will stick around for the long haul or it’s also possible that a few months down the road they’ll return to videogames and watching stuff on their iPad.

BC: I think that’s an issue. Everything does move faster now. Why? I’m not sure. I question it myself because when I think about my life as a kid or my life in the ‘60s or even the ‘70s time went slower. There was more time for everything. I don’t know if that’s just ‘cause I’m getting older and there’s a subjective change in the awareness of time or whether we are really dealing with entropy, that shit’s falling apart faster and faster. The last thing I read about the expanding universe is it’s speeding up. The universe is coming apart faster. It was expanding at the speed of light. Now, they’re saying it’s speeding up. Constantly. I don’t know what that means to you and me but it presumably means something. It may mean that time as we understand it, it actually is going faster. But whatever the reasons that it feels like that we have to move fast. Along with that sped-up time goes a short attention span and that’s been encouraged by technology and certainly by the interests that want to stay in control. There’s probably a lot of people in the corridors of power who are happy to sit there and let us try whatever we’re gonna try and let it blow over and everything will be back to quote-unquote normal again. And that’s a real problem. How long will we be able to sustain this kind of protest or this motivation to see things change?

JPG: Well, if there’s that many people unemployed it may be, ‘Well, I’ve got nothing to do all day. I’ve made my calls and sent my resumes out, I might as well go protest down here.’ It also reminds me of when DEVO put out their album earlier this year and in the articles the members were saying, ‘See! We told you about de-evolution! We were right!’

BC: Right. (laughs) It’s interesting.

JPG: For yourself, you travel around the world as a musician but also to places such as Nicaragua and Afghanistan, is it a matter that you need to be hands-on and see these places of unrest in the flesh to really grasp matters rather than sit at home and read an article or a book or see a documentary? Is that necessary for you as a person as much as it is someone who takes that experience and writes a song based on that experience?

BC: It is important to me as a person more than as a songwriter. I’m happy if I get a song out of a trip but I don’t go on the trips that I go on looking for song material. It just doesn’t work like that, but once in awhile I get lucky or I have an intense enough emotional experience in the course of one of these trips that a song has triggered, and it has happened with Afghanistan and “Each One Lost.”

Because I have the luxury of being able to be mobile…I don’t have nine-to-five hours. I have attachments, certainly, but they’re the kind of attachments that allow me that latitude, and opportunities come up to go places I feel a curiosity about that…I have an interest in military-related things that goes back to when I was kid, and a curiosity with how people deal with war, specifically. This came to me at one point when I was in Mozambique and that war had ended. I was there during it but then I was there again a year after it ended. It seemed to me like war was the natural state of humanity, that we don’t like it but we keep doing it. However complicated it gets by vested interests and political concerns et cetera, there’s something in human nature that wants to slug it out, that wants to dominate, that will keep us going to the battlefield over and over and over again. In the meantime the people who are not the instigators of these things have to survive it somehow or try to. And how do those people do it and how does it all work? I don’t have any answers about it at all. I just have an abiding curiosity about that, I suppose, because I feel like one of these days the shoe is going to fall on us, and it would be nice to know how other people have dealt with it.

JPG: I don’t want you to think that I was inferring that when you need material for a new album you purposely go to some war-torn  place in the world just to get inspired. At the same time, as a songwriter you’re able to be a vehicle to personalize those experiences for the listener. A song such as “If I Had A Rocket Launcher” (the 1984 track was a result of visiting Guatemalan refugee camps) is an easy example where the anger at the situation builds up to the point that when you say the line about wanting to have a rocket launcher to shoot these oppressors, the response is, “Yes!”

BC: (slight laugh) Yeah. And in fact that isn’t the answer but, although, in the short run it sometimes is. If somebody’s coming around to kill your kids, and you have the option of defending them then you’re going to exercise that option. It’s not the Big Picture answer, that’s for sure. But it is personal. It becomes personal. All of it’s personal. We can analyze and talk in generalities and maintain distance. As journalists by and large, at least historically, I’m not supposed to do that. I’m supposed to stand back from the fray and be objective. A songwriter is under no such constraints. There’s pros and cons of both, obviously.

“If I Had A Rocket Launcher” is not reportage exactly but it sort of is because it’s reporting the experiences that I…the feeling is my experience. The things that it talks about are the experiences of people that I was talking to. But, I don’t have to be objective ‘cause it’s not my job. In fact it’s the opposite. My job is to make things personal and to make songs out of my personal take on things.

JPG: “Each One Lost” off the new album goes in a polar opposite direction as far as describing the effects of war by referencing a Ramp Ceremony held for a fallen Canadian soldier. You saw that firsthand when you visited troops in Afghanistan.

BC: It’s pain. War is pain. That’s a pretty safe generalization as well as a bunch of other stuff that it also is, but the essence of war is that. Again, it’s personal. I don’t know if I speak for the Canadian troops that I was associating with in Afghanistan or not with that song. I was hoping to, in writing it, capture the feel of that ceremony. I don’t really know if the feelings I had were totally subjective or if as I thought, and think, they were also part of what the soldiers were feeling and the Air Force people and so on, those that were there. These kids go over there and they get the shit blown out of ‘em by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) and…they’re not perfect people but they felt like my kids. They’re out there. There’s all these 20 and 30-somethings out there, fighting and doing their best to do a terrible job and do it well. They are required, of course, to have the attitudes that they have towards it because, otherwise, they just couldn’t do it. You have to think it’s okay to kill people. You have to think it’s okay to kill those people, at least, the ones they’re fighting against. And there’s an element of brutalization that goes with that.

There was an interesting sidelight to this. A couple of the Canadian officers expressed to me how the world had changed since they’ve been doing what they’ve been doing. Back, not that long ago, when they recruited people they had to go to great lengths to adjust their attitudes so that killing people became an acceptable thing. Now, they don’t have to do that anymore thanks to video games. People join up ready for that kind of murder. It is slightly frightening when you think about it.

JPG: Did you see Saving Private Ryan ?

BC: Yes.

JPG: I’m thinking how in today’s warfare you could be looking through a scope and kill someone 100 to 200 yards away while there was that very powerful scene at the end of the film where the American soldier is paralyzed by fear as he watches his fellow soldier slowly killed in hand-to-hand combat a few feet away. It’s possible that now the human element is so far removed that war is more like a non-emotional video game.

BC: Yeah, and it’s not even a 100 yards away. There’s a guy watching a TV screen in Texas that’s blowing up people in Afghanistan. That’s a half a world away. Even in Afghanistan, we watched in the command center at Kandahar Airfield, it’s a whole room full of computer screens – all the screens were turned off when we walked in except for one that they left on because it wasn’t too sensitive. So, we’re watching this drone watch this guy as he drives along in his pickup truck. And then he drives up to a house and he gets out and he gets a bunch of stuff out of the back of the pickup truck and carries it into the house. This guy has no idea that he’s being watched. He doesn’t appear to. If he had a license plate, you could have read it. And this thing is high enough that he’s not aware of it. And if they wanted to they could tell that thing to fire a rocket at that house and blow it up. I don’t know where it was. It was somewhere in Afghanistan. Where? I don’t know but it was far enough away that nobody in that room was going to feel anything but a kind of video game sense of elation at having succeeded in blowing this guy up. They were following him because they thought the house that he went to was a bomb factory. You see this stuff and it’s so remote. It’s not remote when you want take territory because in order to actually take over a place you have to have people there. And that’s when we quote-unquote become vulnerable to explosive devices.

JPG: Have you had any reaction to “Each One Lost,” whether from soldiers or even your brother (His younger brother, Capt. John Cockburn, is a doctor who served in Afghanistan .) Is he still there?

BC: No, he was only there for six months. It was a standard tour that everybody gets sent on. He signed up to go back but they didn’t send him back. He did go to Haiti after that. He was in Haiti for about four months after the earthquake there. And he’s had some other interesting adventures. But, he’s now officially retired because he turned 60 in September. That’s mandatory retirement for the Canadian Army so… He’s looking at doing some stuff with the Red Cross now.

The reaction to “Each One Lost” has been pretty positive. I think it was USA Today didn’t like it. They felt like I was telling them something preachy but audiences have responded pretty warmly to it in general. You don’t know. If two-thirds of an audience claps loudly for something and the other third doesn’t, you can’t really tell. There may be people who don’t appreciate it. But, I feel like there’s so much emotional attachment to the issue because people’s kids are out there, especially in the U.S. In Canada the numbers are smaller but we’re very aware because the whole population is smaller. We notice when somebody gets killed. And we notice when our people are there in one capacity or another. As a nation, we’re a little bit less secretive than the U.S. tends to be around military issues. So, we tend to air it more clearly, a little more transparently.

I didn’t write that song to promote the war in Afghanistan. I don’t think it’s a sensible thing to be doing but the fact is there are all these people that we love there doing it. And they’re gonna come home or they’re not coming home as the case may be. Come home in one condition or another. Those of us who are old enough to remember Vietnam remember that those soldiers who came back were greeted with a great degree of unfriendliness. People were calling them, ‘Baby killers.’ The homecoming was brutal. It served no purpose for it to be like that. It would be a shame to see it happen again. It’s bad enough that the U.S., and I think this is also true in Canada, the way the Veterans Administration has shirked its responsibility for the people that come back damaged is a disgrace. That needs to be addressed. It’s getting better. At least I keep reading things that sound like it’s getting better. But it’s a problem. It’s something that Dick Cheney can be quite happy sending people off to war and just telling all of us that the world’s gonna be at war forever now. And that’s fine. It’s not going to be him. It’s not going to be his lesbian daughter that’s over there doing it. He can support gay rights and stuff like that, and he’s still an evil sonofabitch. (slight laugh) He doesn’t care if young Americans die or young Canadians die or young Afghans die or whoever. It’s business for him. So, the rest of us have to care.

JPG: Now, Small Source of Comfort is your 31st studio album. For someone who has written so much has it ever happened where you’re writing something and realize that you’re plagiarizing yourself?

BC: Yes, it’s happened rarely because I catch it before it happens. Over the years it’s become a slight problem because I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve written a bunch of songs, and I’m still the same person essentially, although I know some things now that I didn’t know back when. But a lot of the things that I feel are worth writing songs about aren’t that different from what they were at various points along the way. So, I’ll think, ‘There’s an idea for a song,’ and I’ll start to write it and then I realize I wrote it 20 years ago. So, I stop. It makes the songwriting process slower because there’s not as many new things to observe and say as there used to be. But, it still continues, which I’m grateful for.

JPG: Do you think the driving from Kingston, Ontario to Brooklyn as you were writing the album, the solitude of…I don’t know how many hours…

BC: It’s a day’s drive, eight hours or 10 hours if you hit bad traffic in New York. My girlfriend subsequently to that moved out to San  Francisco. So, I’ve done that drive quite a few times now, from Kingston to San Francisco. And that affords a lot more time to…but I interrupted you.

JPG: No, that’s fine. That solitude, I love to drive because it allows the mind to wander. It seems to bring up what seems like brilliant ideas that you may or may not remember later. Does it work like that and you have a recorder on hand for anything that you come up with along the road?

BC: I’m not that technological. I write down the ideas that I get if I remember them long enough. And sometimes they just come and go. And sometimes they’re images that imprint themselves. I don’t know if this will end up in a song or not but a few months ago I was driving east across Nevada. There was a blue sky, hardly any clouds, and there was a rainbow that covered about a third of the sky. It was unbelievable. Vivid vivid…I shouldn’t say covered a third of the sky but at length it went across a big chunk of the sky. Must have been ice crystals way up high. It was so magical and beautiful, but how do you use that? I don’t know. But, it may show up.

JPG: Well, you’re the songwriter. I think you’ll figure it out. I just ask questions. Now, you drive a lot. Are you not a fan of flying?

BC: I’m not a fan of airports. I actually like flying but I hate air travel anymore. It used to be better but it’s so intrusive and such a pain in the ass to go through airports these days that I don’t do it anymore than I have to.

JPG: Kingston to Brooklyn, I can see but to San Francisco? How long does that take?

BC: Six days. I’ve done it in five but I prefer to do it in six. Long-haul truckers do it in less. I camp at truck stops when I do that. It’s fun. At this point the last couple of times I’ve come out here I’ve had to fly because of circumstances.

JPG: Back to the writing, you attended the Berklee School of Music but didn’t graduate. Your Wikipedia page gave the impression that you left because you felt you learned all you could learn there. Still, is there anything that stuck with you from those days?

BC: Yeah, I don’t think I felt like I learned all I could learn but I felt like I was in the wrong place and I needed to be somewhere else without having any real clear sense of what that somewhere else should be. I was there for a year-and-a-half. I learned a lot of things, much of it from the school courses that were being taught but also from just hanging around that many musicians 24 hours a day. In that neighborhood of Boston at the time you could walk around and you’d hear people practicing. There was music  coming out of everywhere all the time. And it was a very healthy atmosphere to get started in. I don’t use the kind of harmonic techniques that I was being taught, particularly, but there’s certain principles that have stuck with me that show up in the construction of guitar parts for the songs a lot. The chord motion, contrapuntal motion, that I apply to my songs that I doubt would be the same if I hadn’t gone there.

Once the rules become part of your tool kit, basically, you don’t sit there thinking, ‘The rules say I should do this now’ but you just have them at your disposal. It’s what you think of. And, at that point it’s all very useful and informs a lot of what I’ve done over the years, especially with respect to guitar parts but not so much with the general feel of a song because that’s determined more by the lyrics. When it comes down to making the guitar fit around a melody or making the melody that the guitar suggests part of a bigger whole, it comes into play.

JPG: I read that you tried an approach of writing a song each day as a form of exercise and found that the amount of good material equaled what you got when you wrote when you just felt inclined to do it. When you’re not touring do you just decompress or do you immediately start thinking of the next recording, have a workman-like approach?

BC: Nah, I’m not so workman-like. I am when I have a particular song on the go. I get very focused. I hound it until it’s done. Right  now, I’m not in a big rush to do the next thing, whatever it is.

JPG: If you do, it could be the noisy album that you originally planned for “Small Source of Comfort.”

BC: That could happen. I think it would be fun to do an album of other people’s songs, too. Which one of those will happen first, I’m not sure.

JPG: You got a little noisy on this album. I recall hearing a gong or two.

BC: There’s a lot of bells on the album and we used a lot on the tour, too. I’ve got these enormous wind chimes that I use playing solo and with the band that I had for part of the tour. It’s fun. I like the sound. At one time in the ‘70s I was in Kennebunkport, Maine and I happened to walk into this place. It was a log cabin on a little hill but it was a store that sold wind chimes. And they must have had 5,000 sets of wind chimes in this place. The building was open at both ends and the wind was blowing through so all of them were going. It was the most amazing transcendental sound…just standing there. And they’re made out of so many different materials and all different sizes and all different tunings. It was really surreal. Ever since then, I’ve had this fascination with that kind of atmosphere. Around my house, I have a lot of wind chimes that probably drive my neighbors crazy but it’s nice to stand outside and hear these things going.

My thanks to John for allowing me to reprint this here. He interviewed Bruce on October 13, 2011. -DK


December 5, 2011
Ottawa Citizen

Bruce Cockburn wins big at Canadian Folk Music Awards

TORONTO — Ottawa came up big at the 2011 Canadian Folk Music Awards here Sunday, with wins by folk legend Bruce Cockburn and singer/songwriters Lynn Miles.

The Ottawa-raised Cockburn, who released his 31st studio album, Small Source of Comfort, this past March, snagged two awards at the ceremony, which was held at Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre after a weekend of nominee showcases and special events across the city. The Ottawa-born musician’s latest disc scored contemporary album of the year as well as solo artist of the year.

The award for English songwriter of the year went to Ottawa’s Miles for her stunning new album Fall for Beauty, while Susie Vinnick, a former Ottawa resident, was honoured as contemporary singer of the year for her album Me ’n’ Mabel.

Nova Scotia singer/songwriter Dave Gunning, who, along with Cockburn, led the nominations with four nods, also picked up two awards. He won new/emerging artist of the year and traditional singer of the year for his Tribute to John Allan Cameron.

Meanwhile, Toronto’s folk/country group The Good Lovelies, featuring Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore, picked up the award for vocal group of the year.

The Canadian Folk Awards were created in 2005, and handed out 19 awards this year.

National Post  © Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen


November 30, 2011
True North Records

True North releases a 3 CD bundle from Bruce, Gordon Lightfoot and Murray McLauchlan, autographed by all three. This is a limited release. Go here.


November 22, 2011
Winnipeg Free Press

Ottawa folk singer Bruce Cockburn, 66, and girlfriend welcome new baby
By: Nick Patch, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - At 66 years old, Bruce Cockburn is a new father once again.

Iona Cockburn was born on Monday in San Francisco to Cockburn and his longtime girlfriend, 36-year-old M.J. Hannett, his manager told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.

Iona is Cockburn's second daughter, born more than 35 years after his first, Jenny.

"Bruce would tell you that he's absolutely thrilled and just absolutely looking forward to being a father to his new daughter," said Cockburn's manager, Bernie Finkelstein, in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Cockburn, an 11-time Juno Award winner, released his 30th album, "Small Source of Comfort," in March.

Finkelstein says the Ottawa folksinger cleared his touring schedule for the most part due to the pregnancy, with the exception of concerts through Eastern Canada set to begin Feb. 11 in Quebec and wrapping two weeks later in Liverpool, N.S.

That jaunt is making up for a cancelled tour in 2010, when Cockburn suffered from a bout of pneumonia that led to a partially collapsed lung.

Cockburn is also working on a memoir to be released sometime in 2013 with HarperCollins, Finkelstein added.

"The one thing this now means is that he's got more time on his hands to work on his new book," he said.


November 16, 2011
Email from Bernie Finkelstein

Update on the concert documentary filmed in 2008

The show is called Pacing The Cage.

It's an hour long TV Special that will be shown on Vision TV in Canada sometime in the Spring, most likely May [2012].

It's a very personal look at Bruce including a look at Bruce's spirituality.

The show is pretty much done with footage from Bruce's Victoria show with Romeo Dallaire, the Bob Lovelace benefit concert in Kingston Ont., and a small bit about Luminato.

Much of the footage comes from the 2008 solo tour through the US northeast.

I think it's a very strong documentary.

As soon as it's delivered to the broadcaster we are going to look into finally expanding the Pacing The Cage show into a longer film that will come closer to a "concert film" but for the time being we're working on finishing the documentary.

Personally I'm very happy with Pacing The Cage and glad that it morphed into a documentary.


Watch a clip from the documentary here.


October 19, 2011
The National Post

Bruce Cockburn leads Canadian Folk Music Award nominees

Folk legend Bruce Cockburn and Nova Scotia’s Dave Gunning lead the 2011 Canadian Folk Music Awards with four nominations each, it was revealed Wednesday at a Toronto news conference.

Cockburn, who released his 31st studio album, Small Source of Comfort, this past March, is nominated for contemporary album of the year, contemporary singer of the year, solo artist of the year and English songwriter of the year. The Ottawa-born musician is one of the country’s most prolific singer-songwriters, and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002.

Gunning garnered four nominations for traditional album of the year, as well as traditional singer of the year, new/emerging artist of the year and producer of the year.

Other nominated artists include Francophone act Genticorum, world music group Maz, and The Wailin’ Jennys, the Juno Award-winning trio from Winnipeg.

New to the awards this year is a category called Unsung Hero, which aims to highlight the work of an individual, group or organization central to the country’s folk music scene. Members of the public are being asked to send in their nominations by Oct. 31.

The Canadian Folk Music Awards, which were created in 2005, use a judging process similar to the “two-stage elimination” model adopted by the Junos. The awards ceremony will be held at Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre Dec. 4, with nominee showcases and other special events running from Dec. 2.


September 28, 2011
Buffalo News

Solo Cockburn thrills crowd
by Jeff Miers

There are very few musicians capable of pulling off a one-man show. As wonderful as one might find Joe Folksinger’s songs when  listening at home, in the concert setting, if you’re at all like me, you start to jones for some rhythm.

Some drums. A little bass wouldn’t hurt, either. Folk-based music can become too self-consciously serious when it is played simply by the singer, accompanied by his acoustic guitar.

Monday evening, a large and appreciative crowd in the Tralf Music Hall rejoiced over the fact that Bruce Cockburn is not one of these narcissistic, and frankly boring, folk folks.

Performing twin sets of songs from throughout his 40-year career, with a healthy heap of new pieces balancing things out, Cockburn enthralled all by his lonesome.

He spoke a bit between songs, often self-deprecatingly, and always with a razor-sharp intelligence and an uber-dry wit. But mostly, he just played, finger-picking his acoustic guitar like a strangely beautiful hybrid of Pat Metheny and Lindsey Buckingham.

By halfway through his first set of the evening, Cockburn proved that the one-man show needn’t be a snoozer, with a force that hasn’t been matched around here since Bruce Springsteen brought his solo “Devils and Dust” tour to HSBC Arena, and Neil Young one-manned up at Shea’s last year.

Cockburn strolled onto the stage without fanfare, waved a hello, picked up one of the many guitars surrounding him and gave us a  beautiful “Last Night of the World” as an appetizer.

Based on their reactions, the assembled were deeply familiar with Cockburn’s canon. His biggest hit from the ’80s, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” felt like a friendly “Hey there” when played so early in the set.

“Child of the Wind” came across as a gorgeous encapsulation of all that Cockburn does so well. A complicated finger-picking pattern played with consummate solidity wrapped itself around a typically literate and poetic lyric, while surprising chord changes kept the ear invigorated. Cockburn is a master of this sort of thing.

He proved as much again with selections from his most recent album, “Small Source of Comfort,” tracked last year at the Tragically Hip’s Bathhouse Studio in Canada. The sharp and witty “Call Me Rose” imagined Richard Nixon post-sex change. Seriously. “Iris of the World” revealed the Cockburnian metaphysics—a poetic humanism, in my interpretation.

Best of all was the instrumental “Bohemian 3-Step,” which suggested the level of musical virtuosity achieved by the likes of Steve Howe and Metheny during their own one-man acoustic forays.

Sublime and deeply moving. After a brief intermission, Cockburn returned

and tore into “Pacing the Cage,” one of his most incisive tunes in terms of both harmonic structure and lyric. “Ancestors” brought a slightly Middle Eastern motif to bear on another haunting song. By this point, the crowd — into it from the get-go—was positively enraptured.

Cockburn is a rare and different bird. He essentially occupies a genre of one. Monday in the Tralf, he gave us an intimate tour of that genre. 


September 15, 2011
The Milford Daily News

Cockburn to rock The Nock Singer-songwriter sees music as ‘rallying point’ in tense times
by Neil Cote

Newburyport — Comforts, even of the small sort, may be hard to find nowadays and you won’t necessarily happen across a mother lode of them listening to Bruce Cockburn. But this most eclectic of Canadian songwriters is one to challenge, not soothe, troubled minds and his 31st studio album, "Small Source of Comfort," finds him familiarly compelling and provocative, sometimes borderline self-righteous, not to mention intensely personal yet selfless, worldly and spiritual.

And maybe, just maybe, hopeful if not delusional that a world gone mad can still find the will to right itself.

"The planet will survive without us," the ever-accommodating 66-year-old Cockburn mused on his cell phone from San Francisco prior to bringing his solo act east. While on tour, he will perform at The Nock in Newburyport Sept. 17. "There are all kinds of post-apocalyptical scenarios and it doesn’t look good. But we do have the capacity to pull out of this deep hole."

Nixon as song subject

And if not, well there could be consequences, perhaps not hellish in a literal sense but of the kind that makes one see life from a side previously scorned. Case in point: Richard M. Nixon, subject of the song "Call Me Rose" and trying to endure as a reincarnated welfare mom in the projects. Hope for salvation perhaps, but not without the mother of all attitude adjustments.

As the long-ago Berklee School of Music student explains, the inspiration for the song was during the George W. Bush presidency  when some took it upon themselves to rehabilitate the Nixon image. While giving the late, disgraced president some due for, among other things, undeniable intelligence and building bridges with China, Cockburn remembers Nixon first and foremost as a scoundrel devoid of the most basic traits that gave at least some honor to his successors.

And how might the concept of reincarnation align with Cockburn’s devout Christian faith? "In my Father’s house there are many mansions," he responds, quoting the scriptural passages that often find their way into his songwriting. "Who’s to say reincarnation isn’t among those mansions?"

Intense lyrics

So Cockburn isn’t one of these Canadian songwriters — think Gordon Lightfoot or Ian Tyson — whose themes so often return to the wild beauty of his native land, the object of his affection or the cause of his heartbreak. Best categorized as a lyric-intense folk-rocker with a jazz influence, Cockburn found mainstream popularity with his bouncy and philosophical 1979 hit, "Wondering Where The Lions Are," but has long tapped into more disturbing emotional material, often garnered through volunteer work with nongovernmental organizations at Third World hellholes far removed from an Ontario home that no longer seems much of a safe haven on a planet growing smaller and smaller.

"My dad was like a typical Canadian liberal and he’d wonder why I was so concerned with Nicaragua," Cockburn remembered, in reference to that nation’s civil war as well as the other turmoil that wracked Central America during the 1980s. "But if one end of a boat is torn, you can’t ignore it just because you’re in the other end. We’re all affected."

Music as “rallying point”

And can one man’s music make a difference?

"No," is the succinct reply. "I don’t think music does that. But it can be a rallying point. It can say something but not start it."

Whatever, Cockburn sure had much to say in what had to be his most searing song, "If I Had A Rocket Launcher," released almost 30 years ago after doing relief work at a Guatamalan refugee camp. For those familiar with Cockburn’s pacifist ways, it seemed at least a little out of character that he’d actually wish violence upon anyone — much like Bob Dylan in "Masters of War" — but he’d challenge anyone to feel different sentiments after observing first-hand what those refugees endured from the former junta.

Moved to tears

More recently Cockburn made a goodwill trip to Kandahar where his younger brother, Captain John Cockburn, was serving as a military doctor. Though generally supportive of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, Cockburn was moved to tears while witnessing a ramp ceremony for two dead soldiers whose coffins were being loaded on a transport plane for the final trip home. "One of the saddest and most moving scenes I’ve been privileged to witness," said Cockburn, who vividly detailed the tragedy in "Each One Lost."

"Well screw the rule of law, we want the rule of love enough to fight and die to keep it coming. If that sounds like confusion, brother think again, we know exactly what we choose."

Also resulting from that trip is one of several new instrumentals, "The Comets of Kandahar,” inspired by the sight of jet fighters taking off after dark, glowing purple from the tailpipes. Such could be the entertainment in a desolate war zone. And, oh yes, the troops just loved hearing him sing "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" among his other material.

Leavening of the mix

The overall seriousness if "Small Source of Comfort" is lessened somewhat with the humor of "Called Me Back," which finds Cockburn comically speculating why a buddy won’t return his call. "I coulda been croaking on the floor of my flat," he muses before it occurs that perhaps his buddy too has a slew of troubles, possibly a bitter divorce or a quadruple bypass or a mother who’s run afoul of the law.

Just another reminder that this most troubled world doesn’t revolve around anyone in particular. And maybe, just maybe, like the man in that song — not to mention Nixon in "Call Me Rose" — we too will come to see the world through someone else’s eyes and make the adjustments needed to sustain us all.

Could be more than just small comforts if that day were to dawn.


July 29, 2011
D. Keebler

I spoke with Bernie Finkelstein today by phone and he reports the following:

Vision TV in Canada has purchased the rights to the video that was shot during the Slice O Life Tour in 2008. He fully expects it to air on their network before the year ends. Additionally they are planning to release the program, with bonus footage, on DVD shortly thereafter. The current working title is, Pacing The Cage.


June 22, 2011

Concert preview: Songwriter, singer Bruce Cockburn enjoys time on the road
Self-described 'nomad' comes to the Nugget on Saturday
by Mark Earnest

Bruce Cockburn is now in his fourth decade of playing music for fans, and yet he's still not weary of being on the road.

In fact, during a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Portland, Ore., Cockburn called himself a nomad at heart. "I think that's what feels like home, you know," he said with a chuckle.

"I love being on the road. I do like it more when I'm with people, not so much solo. There's a lot of camaraderie and musical exchanges that happen, and the shows are really enjoyable."

For his show on June 25 at John Ascuaga's Nugget [Sparks, NV], Cockburn (pronounced KO-burn) will be joined by violinist/singer Jenny Schienman, who is featured throughout the new album. He has been touring with a drummer, Gary Craig, but he isn't able to be at the Sparks show.

"It's been fantastic touring with the two of them," Cockburn said. "I've done some shows with Jenny before, just some little things in little places, so it will be fun but kind of odd for us, since we've played 40-odd shows as a trio. But, Jenny and I have a chemistry between us that everybody notices, and it makes for really nice stuff to happen."

Fans should expect a wide range of songs as well -- Cockburn and Schienman know about 40 songs, and Cockburn said he still plays another 10-20 for solo shows.

"That about as many as I can retain in my head at once," he said. "There has been some turnover of songs as times goes one, especially with the older songs. I'm always more interested in playing the newer songs, of course, just because they are new. But there are certain songs that people always want to hear, so it's a combination of old and new."

A native of Pembroke, Ontario, Canada, Cockburn released his self-titled debut in 1970. It wasn't until 1979, though, that he has some chart success across the border, as "Wondering Where the Lions Are" became a top 20 hit. Two of Cockburn's '80s songs -- "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" and "Lovers In a Dangerous Time" -- eventually became staples on adult alternative radio.

His latest album is called "Small Source of Comfort." Cockburn laughed heartily when asked if it blew his mind that “Comfort” was his 31st album.

“It was mind-blowing in a way, yeah,” he said. “I got over it, but you think about it and that’s a lot of time, a lot of words going by. But, I don’t spend a lot of time going over that fact.”

Cockburn is also a skilled guitar player, a fact borne out by the inclusion of five instrumentals on "Comfort." That's a record-number of vocal-less songs for a Cockburn album -- with his 2005 all-instrumental "Speechless" CD as a notable exception -- although he has placed some on records since the beginning of his career.

He said the large number this time was just happenstance. "It's mostly the fact that when we were doing vinyl records, they had not been put on there because they couldn't all fit," Cockburn said. "If I picked something to take off the album, it likely would have been an instrumental. Now that we are filling up an hour of music, basically, there is the option to put things on."

The album also features several songs that address war. Although having a song about a topical subject is nothing new for Cockburn, before these songs were written he visited soldiers in Afghanistan, a trip he said gave him more perspective from the soldiers' point of view.

"To be there, they have to believe in it, otherwise they would go crazy, so I was taking into account their position from their own minds," Cockburn said. "I thought it was a kind of mortality-based position, and I think they had the feeling that they could actually win it if they had enough time. That might be true, but I can't believe that based on history. But I have to respect that, because they see it up close every day. So, you have to take that opinion seriously."

Cockburn added that he came away "with a tremendous respect for the soldiers and an affection for them. I was feeling that already before I went there, but I feel like these are my kids. They are the age of my daughter, and younger, so I really cared about their well-being."

One of Cockburn’s more distinctive musical signatures over the decades is his blend of the personal and the topical, sometimes within the same song. He said that he’s not concerned with getting a message out in his music, though.

“I want to create something that has some power to it, and has the ability to touch people, at least to the best of my ability,” he said. “But in terms of messages, I just write what’s in my heart. There’s not a concept. It’s more about the feeling you get hearing it. It’s really all the same to me, whether I’m writing a love song or something that’s more connected to a social issue. It’s coming from the same place.”


 May 19, 2011
Boulder Weekly

31 albums and going strong-
Cockburn strips down to basics for latest
By Chris Callaway

Singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn can’t sit still. The celebrated Canadian musician has spent the last 41 years tackling politics, injustice and the euphoric joys and exacerbating nature of humanness in songs laced with spiritual conviction, honest reflection and his signature biting commentary.

Cockburn’s 31st album, Small Source of Comfort, was released in March, and neither his reflective nature nor his work ethic show any signs of abating. He has been engaged in the disc’s supporting tour, backed by violinist/ vocalist Jenny Scheinman — who doubles as the opening act — and percussionist/drummer Gary Craig. There’s no bassist, Cockburn is using mostly acoustic guitars, and the drum set is not what one would envision — it’s a stripped-down, engaging sound.

Small Source of Comfort certainly did not start as the type of album that would have comfortably adapted itself to such touring simplicity. Cockburn’s original vision for its sound involved plenty of distorted guitars and a loud, bombastic direction with some dissonance thrown into the mix. But circumstances did not allow his vision to come to fruition.

“I guess I could have forced the issue, but it didn’t seem like a good idea,” he says. “Basically, through that period of time, my girlfriend moved to New York, lived there for five years and then moved back to San Francisco, where she had been living before that. So I was spending a lot of time in Brooklyn. If I had been at my house, I could have cranked everything up and it probably would have been that kind of album, but [I] can’t really pursue that sort of stuff. It’s not really new for me to be loud and electric. I did that in the ’60s, but to develop a kind of approach to songwriting and using that sort of vibe requires some work, and it just wasn’t in the cards.”

Small Source of Comfort is more suited to botanic gardens, wine sipping and beautiful sunsets, but it works just like the other quiet moments in Cockburn’s surprisingly varied discography. Producer Colin Linden, a frequent pick for Cockburn, recorded at a studio in Nashville and at the Bathouse, a residential studio in Ontario, Canada, owned by popular Canadian band The Tragically Hip. While Cockburn’s house was minutes away from the Bathouse, everyone else boarded at the studio.

“It was very relaxed and nobody was going anywhere,” he says. “Nobody had to rush anywhere. You just sort of roll out of bed, get fed and then you’d start recording.”

There’s the gentle instrumental “Lois on the Autobahn,” titled after Cockburn’s late mother, and the driving rhythm of “The Iris of the World,” but perhaps the best song on Small Source of Comfort is “Call Me Rose, ” a composition that formulated in Cockburn’s head while he was sleeping.

“It was a little bit of work, but mostly it was unlike anything else in that I woke up and the whole song was there in my head.” Cockburn says. “That’s never quite happened in exactly that way before.”

The song asks what would be required to rehabilitate not just Richard Nixon’s image, but his soul.

When Cockburn sings the opening line, “My name was Richard Nixon, only now I’m a girl,” one cannot help smiling and listening to what comes next.

“Where did that first line come from?” Cockburn says with a laugh. “I don’t know. My theory is that it had to do with some deep psychological issues around power and me, but expressed through language that was provided by the Bush administration’s brief attempt a few years ago to rehabilitate the image of Richard Nixon. There’s some sort of association there, but I was not really clear on what it is.”

While “Call Me Rose” is a serious composition, irrespective of its opening line, the purposefully humorous “Called Me Back” is anything but. Its slightly comical, somewhat cacophonous, back-porch musical accompaniment fits perfectly. Simply put, Cockburn had a friend that never returned a phone call.

“It just was funny because it’s based on a real episode which has been repeated a thousand-fold by other people in my life,” he says. “You call somebody, try and get a hold of them, and they don’t call you back and they don’t call you back. You call them again and they don’t call you back, and eventually they do or there’s some communication, but in the end there’s usually a good reason why the response wasn’t there.

“It just seems like such a common thing and it’s annoying. It’s like, ‘I should write a song about that — this one particular time that it happened’ — and so I did. It’s the kind of topic that’s not really worth a serious song at all anyway, but it’s just one of those little cartoons of life.”

Cockburn, who turns 66 on May 27 — the same day he performs at Boulder’s Chautauqua Auditorium — is as reflective on his long career as he is on explaining his newer songs, humorous or otherwise. His wry sense of humor and gentle demeanor are present, but it’s his prevailing honesty that guides the way.

Perhaps it’s from so many years of honest, heartfelt artistic expression; maybe it’s having a daughter and two grandchildren he’s rarely able to see because of distance and his schedule; or maybe it’s simply a sense of life that comes with age and experience.

In the end, maybe it’s a combination of everything. “It’s weird because sometimes it feels like I’ve been doing this a really long time, and other times it just feels like I’m barely getting started,” Cockburn says. “I guess that’s just the way it is for everybody who reaches a certain age. The shape of your life assumes a different perspective when you start approaching the end of it, even though the day after you’re born could be the end of it, but [you] don’t think about that until you have to. Of course once you start getting older you have to — your friends start dying or you’re having crises and you have to notice that.

“If I went back and tried to remember all the things that happened over those years — I don’t know if I’d like to do that, but there’d be [some] neat stuff in there. There’d be some things that were great from the point of view of creating songs out of the angst that they produced, but I’d rather live with the songs than the memories of some of the stuff that happened.”


May 12, 2011

Boundless: An Interview with Bruce Cockburn
by Thomas Hauner

One of the most prolific singer-songwriters to emerge from the 1960s, Bruce Cockburn is also one of the most eclectic, very likely the most honest, and certainly the most overlooked. His steady output—be it reggae, jazz, rock, blues, folk or country—never dissolved into the solipsism that plagues breakout success. Instead, Cockburn sang about injustice and condemned imperialism, without sounding sanctimonious. And while other contemporaries had moved south to the United States to advance their fledgling careers, Cockburn always remained committed to being a Canadian artist. His faithfulness was rewarded when he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002.

Upon the release of his 31st studio album, Small Source of Comfort, PopMatters had the opportunity to talk with him about his new record, his career, and even Justin Bieber.

* * *

Let’s talk about your new record first, Small Source of Comfort, and the title. I’ll bite; what is your small source of comfort?

It’s actually a line from one of the songs, a song called “Five Fifty-One”, that says in it, “a small source of comfort, dawn was breaking in the air, you don’t take these things for granted when you think of what’s in need of repair.” So we’re grateful for this thing that came up, but we’ve also been messing with things to such an extant. So it has an ironic application, but if people want to think of the album as a small source of comfort they’re welcome to.

I noticed you meted credit, in the sleeve, to the NYPD and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. What was their contribution to the record?

All the credits are directed at entities that actually had something to do with the making of the songs. There’s a reference in “Iris of the World” about crossing the border, so that’s the Homeland Security part of it. And the New York Police Department also figures in that song, “Five Fifty-One”, where in the middle of the night there’s a pounding on the door: “What’s going on in there?” And, in fact, nothing was going on but my neighbor had said there was. So they get some credit in there.

What is the actual drive you’re alluding to on “Iris of the World”?

Most of the time I was driving between Kingston, Ontario and New York. For several years my girlfriend was living in New York, so  I was commuting, though commute isn’t the right word. I was making frequent drives from my house down to Brooklyn. A lot of the imagery from that song is a product of that driving. But I’ve done so much driving over the years that long-distance drives figure a lot in this album. Not just that song, but in “Boundless”, for instance, there’s a lot of that kind of reference.

Do you do a lot of writing on the road, literally?

I don’t do enough writing to be able to say that I do a lot of it anywhere, in any particular place [laughing]. But it can happen on the road and historically it has. It’s less of whether I’m traveling or not and really whether I’ve encountered something that affects me emotionally to get the process going. And then, whether I have a quiet space to focus on it. But that can kind of happen anywhere under any circumstance, as long as those two requirements are met.

So there’s no static routine you employ to write?

No, not really. I tried for a while way back, decades ago, to be “disciplined” and write something every day and write in my notebook. I did that for about a year, and at the end of the year I had about as much usable stuff as if I had just sat around waiting for good ideas. So that was the end of discipline.

There are a significant number of instrumentals on the new record. How did those come about?

I’m not sure why that is. They came about very differently than the songs with words, where I can always start with lyrics and then find music that suits it. Without the lyrics then it’s really just what comes out of the guitar while I’m messing around. I’ll discover something, and an idea then leads to another idea leads to another idea.

There are also a significant number of collaborations. How did those pairings happen?

I’ll take Jenny [Scheinman] first. Well when she’s not on the road she does a weekly Tuesday night gig at this little club called Barbès in Brooklyn. So she asked me to do a couple of those with her and we had so much fun doing that. Then we got approached to do a demo for a film that was in need of some music, after the director had come to one of our shows and thought it might work. So we collaborated on that for a couple weeks, but it came to nothing in the end and they didn’t use our music. But we came up with a lot of great ideas during that time and I felt, I don’t know what Jenny felt like, but I felt that it stretched in a positive way. To be working with somebody as distinctive as she is and as creative as she is, we had enough of a common background, a common language, I was hoping she would be a big part of this album.

And of course the other collaborator on the record is Annabelle Chvostek, who is a former member of a group called the Wailin’ Jennys. She approached me one day and asked if I would be interested in writing songs with her. I hadn’t written anything in a while, and I hadn’t done very much collaborating of that sort over the years, but I was familiar with her music from the Wailin’ Jennys. So we got together and I contributed a few lines and we got talking back and forth before we arrived at the final version [of “Driving Away”] you hear on the record. After we did that I thought, “That worked well we should try another one!” So I came back in with a bunch of lyric ideas that didn’t really have a proper fit and we got together and came up with “Boundless”.

One of my favorite tracks is “Call Me Rose.” You hadn’t been listening to John Adams’ Nixon in China had you?

I’m aware of its existence, but I’ve never heard it. I had friends go see Doctor Atomic once in New York and I heard the music on the radio, which is amazing, but I’m not familiar with the music of Nixon in China. I’m not really sure where that song did come from. I woke up one morning and it was just in my head, almost complete in the form that you hear it. The lyrics, I’m not sure where that comes from. From your sleeping brain, you know? When that song was written—it was a few years back—someone from the Bush administration, not too long before that, had campaigned to bring back the image of Richard Nixon. There were all these pronouncements being made by various pundits in the press that he was the “greatest President ever” and that he was misunderstood and all this baloney. And the interesting thing was nobody bought it. They kept doing this for a couple months and then all of a sudden it just disappeared; which suggested to me that somebody had paid to get this campaign going and once it hadn’t born fruit just cut it off. I was pleased to see that the American public was not taken in. As those of us who can remember, other than the fact that he made a very important gesture in terms of establishing communications with China—there’s no taking that away from him—he was a crook and a scumbag and no one should think otherwise. The fact that he was also an intelligent man doesn’t really mitigate the crookedness, or the carrying on of the war, etc. etc. The idea that you could bring him back as the “greatest president ever” was absurd. So I suppose somewhere in there I might have been thinking, “What would it take rehabilitate actual Richard Nixon?” Not just his image. So in the song he’s re-imagined as a single mom living in the projects. I guess it’s kind of like Groundhog Day.

Perhaps in a similar tactic conservatives are currently lionizing Reagan more than ever.

Reagan at least avoided being caught in a sleazy scandal. Whatever else was going on he managed to stay away from the crookedness. I think he understood that his power came from other people. I don’t think Nixon understood that at all. In spite of the fact that Reagan was guilty of all kinds of policies that led to serious human rights abuses and lots of death and mayhem, he came across as a reasonably honorable guy. I’m leaving out the part when he ratted out his colleagues during the McCarthy era [laughing]. I guess we have to factor that in too, so maybe he wasn’t better than Nixon.

Tell me about visiting Canadian troops in Afghanistan and the inspiration for writing “Each One Lost” and as well as the instrumental, “Comets Over Kandahar.”

“Each One Lost” I wrote the day after I got home. My week in Afghanistan was a very short trip, but it was a powerful experience.

Had you traveled to a war zone previously?

I’d been to several war zones before, but never with the Canadian forces—always with NGOs or non-profits that are doing work in  third-world countries. I was in Central America in Nicaragua during the contra war, and I was in Mozambique during their civil war. And if you traveled in Italy in the late 70s it was like being in a war zone because people kept pointing guns at you everywhere you turned. So I’m not exactly a stranger to that kind of atmosphere. But this was the first time that I had been on a Canadian base and I was excited about that because it’s nice to have a sense of what my own country is doing and what these young Canadians are doing. These young people, these young Canadians, are at the age, right now, where they kind of feel like kids and make you feel a kind of solidarity with them. But I was excited to be able to go and see them working and experience what it felt like to be there, even for just a short period of time.

My brother, who is only a few years younger and has had a career as a doctor for most of his adult life, joined the army a couple of years ago. He got sent to Afghanistan for a six month tour. When that happened I thought, “Well here’s a chance to visit, a connection. It would be really cool to be able to go over while he’s there.” So I asked what he had to say about it, and he liked the idea because somebody from here wants see what he’s doing there. So we badgered the army and they let me join this morale boosting group that was going over there—just some musicians and some sports people and various others. We went and performed for the troops at some of the operating bases and rode in some helicopters with a couple of gunships escorting us. As tragic as war zones are, there’s an adrenaline factor that’s kind of addictive. Other than the dead and the wounded—of course they’re not numerous by global standards but they’re numerous enough if you’re looking at it from the Canadian perspective, and there’s nothing fun in tragedy—the fact is that the people who are not dead are capable of having fun. And the rush of sitting in that helicopter, flying over the desert, looking out at a machine-gunner, at the landscape, was a precious experience. It was exciting and stood in short contrast to the seriousness of what’s really going on. That seriousness was brought home with me—the subject of “Each One Lost”—when our group became part of a ramp ceremony honoring the remains of two young Canadian soldiers who had been killed. On our way into Afghanistan we stopped at a NATO base in Dubai for a few hours for a plane change. As we were getting ready to board our plane from there to Kandahar, another transport plane came in from there with the bodies of these two soldiers on board that had been killed that day. So we were already on the runway and became part of the ramp ceremony and it was a bit of a nightmare. I tried to capture that in my song.
"The Comets of Kandahar"

Describe to me the scene for which you wrote “The Comets of Kandahar.”

Well an instrumental piece isn’t really about anything, but you have to come up with names for these things. So the title came from something one of the Canadian soldiers said to me while we were standing there watching—what I learned was kind of a nightly pleasure for a lot of people on the base—the jet fighters taking off constantly, twenty-four hours a day, for missions or patrols. They go off in pairs, thirty seconds apart, and after dark you can’t see them; you just hear a roar. But a moment later you’ll see the flame, from the tail cone, coming out of the fighter. And that’s all you can see. There’s this glowing purplish cone flying across the sky. Everyone stops to look at this because it’s a beautiful sight. So there we are standing, a bunch of us, and we’re all looking at it, and the soldier standing next to me said, “The comets of Kandahar.” So that became the title of the piece.

The song sounds very light and buoyant. Like the imagery in title, in the context of war it’s an interesting juxtaposition.

Yeah, it’s a paradox. I’ve found that in war zones while there are terrible things going on there are also beautiful things going on—not enough to mitigate the terrible things though. You don’t go to certain wars so you can have a vision like that or support wars for that reason either. But the fact is that, whether it’s in Nicaragua in the early ‘80s or Mozambique, I’ve discovered that the troops fighting the war had a sense of humor, and they were glad to see us, and some of them had guitars. I was with Sandinista soldiers on this occasion, and I also visited a couple of other bases in Nicaragua. I think in a way that the closer you are to acknowledge that you could die, or the awareness of death, the more important it is for the individual to have fun. It’s not like sitting around thinking, “Well how am I going to go have fun today?” But if you look and see the beauty around you, whether it’s a leaf or the dust storms that come up somewhere, all these things that are a part of what could be a very threatening landscape become beautiful in themselves.

Finding small sources of comfort you could say.

Yeah, I suppose so.

I also wanted to ask you about “Gifts,” the last track on the record. You wrote the song in 1968. Why record it for the first time now?

“Gifts” was just a short little one-verse song that used to close shows in the 60s. After a few years I had more songs and it kind of fell out of the repertoire and never came back for a long time. But in 1969, when we were recording the first album, Bernie Finkelstein, who was my manager but also did sound on those records, asked, “What about that song ‘Gifts,’ should we put that on the album?” I didn’t really feel like putting it on the album. I though it was fine without it and so I just said, “I’m going to put that on the last album.” And at that point, obviously, none of us knew how many records there would be. So here it is, 40 years later. I don’t know whether this is the last album or not, but it feels like it’s getting to that stage in things where you don’t know for sure. I mean this could be. My hands could stop working or you never know what could happen. It won’t make this the last album, but I thought, “Let’s put it on there just in case.” We did it in such a way that we didn’t tell Bernie until he was listening to a playback of the whole thing. We got to the end and Bernie says, “Is there anything I should know?” And we all just had a laugh and I said, “No, no! I did it just in case.”

In the album notes you cite an initial desire for an “electric and noisy” record with “gongs and jackhammers” and distortion. Can we expect something like that in the future?

It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s possible. I still need to get that out of my system. It’s definitely there in me to do it, but it requires the right setting. You can’t be sitting around a bunch of apartments surrounded by a bunch of loud amps. So it’s become difficult to put something like that together, but it could happen still.

Getting completely off the subject of your records, I have some questions to get off my chest. What is the etymology of your last name?

It’s Scottish, and it actually translates as “rooster creek”. “Cock” is as it is in English generally, but a “burn” in Scottish dialect is a creek. So it’s a place name like so many people’s names that identify someone according to a place. If it was an English name it’d be pronounced “Cock-burn,” but as a Scottish name the c-k in the middle becomes a sort of guttural sound. So it just got kind of shortened over the years or centuries. Sometimes when I went out the bar girl would start making fun of going out for “co-tails”. So this is what I’ve been living with.

I imagine it was not always an easy childhood.

[laughing] You know my dad, when I was a little kid in grade school, he said to me, “Do kids ever call you Coke? When I was little in grade school the kids used to call me Cokeburn.” If they had called me Coke I would have thought that was just fine, instead of making the obvious jokes that they did make. But it says something about the difference in generations, from his to mine. Of course it’s gone much farther than that now, the difference in the way kids talk and the way people think

Did you play hockey as a child growing up in Ontario?

I played hockey for one year. I was a terrible skater and I could only skate while I was holding myself up with the hockey stick. So as soon as I took a swing at the puck I fell down. So it never got better than that. I skied a lot. That was the thing that we did as a family.

Nordic or alpine?

Both, because at the time it wasn’t yet as differentiated as it is now. But the places we went skiing didn’t really have these large hills compared to Western North America; just a hill to learn and do some downhill skiing. But they did have miles and miles of trails, so we used to mix it up and do downhill in the morning and then cross-country skiing in the afternoon. In those days you didn’t have different skis; you just adjust the binding so that the heel could come up.

You were a glaring omission in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic ceremonies.

Yeah, I kind of noticed that too! [laughing]

Why the snub? Did they think your politics were already aligned against the Olympics and you wouldn’t accept?

I don’t know what they thought. You’d really have to ask Bernie about what kind of approach we may have gotten. Steve [Dawson]  produced an album of covers of the Mississippi Sheiks on which I participated and he tried to put together an evening—a Mississippi Sheiks cover concert basically. So that was the closest that I came, and I don’t know if it happened or not. I’m not sure if there was ever really any more talk than that. I did think it was kind of funny that everybody seemed to be there but me.

So you didn’t necessarily agree with those who were criticizing the presentation of indigenous culture during the games?

There’s always some controversy around stuff like that. I think the organizers went out of their way to offset that by including a lot of Native American stuff in the eventual ceremony. Generally speaking, these things are touted as a great benefit to the city for the foreseeable future, but after it they’re paying off the enormous debt from it. I think that will be true with Vancouver too. It certainly was with Montreal.

The Olympic stadium in Montreal has simply become a huge liability for the city.

Down there everybody calls it the Toilet Seat. I think it’s a nice stadium, I guess. I used to go by it when I lived in Montreal. The people who love these events are the developers who make the quick buck building all this stuff.

There’s a significant amount of myopia required.

Yeah, willful myopia. It’s not that hard to look at the precedents, the other cities who have done something similar, and all of them have had the same problems. It just seems to be something that’s agreed that certainly brings visibility to a place globally. But it disrupts and changes the face of where you are. Who does it benefit? It benefits the contractors and the developers and nobody else really.

Back to Ontario. I know both you and Neil Young are from very near each other in Ontario and you’re both nearly the same age. Have you been able to form any sort of special bond over this?

Not really, no. I met Neil after Buffalo Springfield had come apart and he was starting his solo career. He used to come by and play this local coffee house where I hung out. So I talked to him a few times. That was a very interim phase for him. I was in Toronto and in that scene, but not really at the same time that he was.

Finally, I must ask, and only because you’re Canadian and tremendously affable, what are your thoughts on Justin Bieber?

[laughing] I don’t know much about him. I wish him well. The little bit that I’ve seen of him, most of it performing and a little interview here and there, he seems like a very reasonable young guy and I hope he does okay. But I’m not a fan of that music. Good for him if he can do it.

He seems proudly Canadian so I don’t anticipate him defecting, for what it’s worth.

We think of Neil as a Canadian and Neil as a Californian. We think of Joni Mitchell as a Canadian and Joni as a Californian. Leonard Cohen, well I don’t know where Leonard lives now, but he’s lived all over the place. That’s not to take anything away from their Canadian-ness, because I think you can see it and hear it in their music and everything; that is, define Canadian. But it had been a situation where an artist who wanted to get any kind of attention at all had to go to the states; you couldn’t do it in Canada. You could start in Canada, but if you wanted to get on the radio you had to go to the states and then come back because there was no music scene in Canada—or rather music business. There were lots of people playing music, but the majority of people playing music want people to hear it.

There are exceptions, like Paul Anka. Paul Anka went to the states, to New York. He was from Ottawa, younger than me, and there he was. Well maybe he was a couple of years older, but anyway it doesn’t matter. But that could happen. It was a rare thing. But then all of a sudden all these Canadians were saying, “You know what? It isn’t bad coming from Canada. Look at Joni and Neil” and all these people that were doing well. The inferiority complex kind of evolved into national pride. Combined with CRTC regulations and all that, it was a very creative community in the music industry which allowed people to get heard. Back then, being Canadian—those of us who decided to consciously stay in Canada—it wasn’t that we were anti-anything else; it was just ridiculous to not be able to do what I wanted to do in my own country first, and then go somewhere else. At that time it was really important to me to hang around in Canada and do whatever could be done there before looking elsewhere. After a decade or so of that I did start to go outside of Canada. It mattered to me that I was from Canada, but I don’t think it mattered much to anyone else—at least not outside of Canada.


May 12, 2011
The Times Union

Cockburn, though polite, plays with energy and edge|

by Michael Eck

ALBANY -- Bruce Cockburn is a really good guitar player, but he was most dazzling Saturday night at The Egg with a brief sojourn  on the amplified Appalachian dulcimer.

On the six-string, Cockburn employs a complex finger-picking style that modernizes classic patterns of bluesmen like Rev. Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt. But his outing on the dulcimer was even more mesmeric, especially given the hypnotic contributions of fiddler Jenny Scheinman and percussionist Gary Craig.

Cockburn's current trio is one of the best bands he's had, and Scheinman and Craig lend sympathetic ears and strong chops.

Older tunes like "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" seemed revitalized at The Egg, and new stuff like "The Iris of the World," from the March release "Small Source of Comfort," was fresh and lively, even when it was moving and sad ("Each One Lost").

Scheinman opened the show as well, offering half an hour of voice and fiddle. Curiously, she strummed and fingerpicked the violin as often as she bowed it. The novelty alone was entrancing, but the spare backing and her rich voice proved a fine combination.

Scheinman has released a number of instrumental albums over the past few years, and truth be told she's a better composer than she is a lyricist. Songs like "My Old Man" and "The Littlest Prisoner" (which was actually played during Cockburn's set) have better concepts than execution, yet both boast good melodies.

On "Just a Child," the words and music came together for Scheinman, and she scored one of the true highlights of the night.

With Cockburn, she was free to let her bowing get a little more outside, and on "Five Fifty-One" and "Albert" she growled on the strings as much as she cooed. The latter, an instrumental named for free jazz pioneer Albert Ayler, was her other compositional contribution to Cockburn's show.

Like her boss, though, even at her most avant, Scheinman remains exquisitely polite. That has always been the problem with Cockburn's music. Even when the man is filled with rage, he comes off as though he's sipping tea -- or in the case of the impossibly self-satisfied "Last Night of the World," "sipping Flor De Cana and lime juice."

The latter opened the show, followed immediately by "Mango," the most laughably unsexy ode to female sexuality ever penned. Cockburn has called the number his civilized response to more explicit and randy blues odes, but it sounds like a children's song, and that's just wrong.

Thankfully, things got better quickly and the show lifted in energy and edge as it went on.

The eternal "Wondering Where the Lions Are" was shimmering, and "If a Tree Falls" was flat-out wonderful.

Michael Eck is a frequent contributor to the Times Union.


Concert review
Bruce Cockburn
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
Length: Jenny Scheinman, 30 minutes; Bruce Cockburn, 110 minutes
Highlights: Scheinman's "Just a Child" and Cockburn's "Wondering Where The Lions Are"
The crowd: Polite, very polite.


May 12, 2011
Poughkeepsie Journal

Bruce Cockburn
by John Barry

A recent press release issued on Bruce Cockburn’s new album really caught my attention because it mentioned his mother:

“Bruce Cockburn has always been a restless spirit. Over the course of four decades, the celebrated Canadian artist has traveled to the corners of the earth out of humanitarian concerns—often to trouble spots experiencing events that have led to some of his most memorable songs. Going up against chaos, even if it involves grave risks, can be necessary to get closer to the truth.

‘My mother once said that I must have a death wish, always going to what she called ‘those awful places,’’ laughs Cockburn. ‘I don’t think of it that way. I make these trips partly because I want to see things for myself and partly out of my own sense of adventure.’”

So I had the opportunity to speak with Bruce a couple weeks ago, about his new album, “Small Source Of Comfort,” and my first question was about his mother.

Bruce Cockburn on his parents:

- His mother died last summer at 88. Up until 87 she was playing tennis and curling. On curling, Bruce said, “I never wanted to do it but she tried hard to get me to.”

Cockburn’s mom and dad played piano and his father still does: “He would play by ear in the key of F. 30s and 40s tunes he grew up with. He was stuck in the key of F. My mother would play piano but she played light classical pieces. She only played from the music. Between the two of them, they defntiely were musical in their own way. When I was really little, we used to sing together in the car. As we got to be more numerous and older, my paretns tried singing and we’d be groaning in the back seat. After a while, they just gave up. They were very supportie of my attempts at music. It was my mum really who kept pushing me. I started guitar at 14. I just saw myself as a guitar playe. I couldn’t imagine myself as a singer. She said, “You know, people who play guitar sing.”

On “Gifts,” from his new album, “Small Source Of Comfort,” which Cockburn wrote years ago but dusted off for his latest release, he said, “There are a wholel lot of songs sitting around I wrote in the 60s that I hope no one gets to hear.”

The first song Bruce remembers writing, is, “It’s Not You Who’s Leaving Cause Baby I’m Heaving You Out.”

He said it was typical of 1964 but added, “It’s not a very good one.”

Bruce will be at Tarrytown Music Hall Sunday night, May 15. I’ll be there and will be writing a review on this blog first thing Monday, or as soon as life lets me get to it.


May 7, 2011

Three Days in Ontario April 2011
-A music tale by Richard Hoare

I am British and have lived my adult life in the United Kingdom. In 1975 I attended Kingston upon Thames Polytechnic in Surrey, England as a mature student and that same year one of the other students produced from his car a True North copy of the Bruce Cockburn LP Salt Sun and Time. I was mesmerized by the unusual gatefold sleeve art while this fellow music fan explained that he had spent some time in Canada and enthused about Cockburn’s music. I soon found a copy of Bruce’s Sunwheel Dance LP in a second hand record shop. I was now off and running on what to date has been a 35 year odyssey of interest in the world class music and songwriting of Bruce Cockburn.

My thanks to Jerry Gilbert for his eye opening Cockburn article in Fat Angel No 15 in 1978. I had to wait until 1981 to see Bruce play live. He was touring with a band to promote his 1980 Humans LP and he made one appearance in the UK that year at The Venue in London. Peter O’Brien of Omaha Rainbow suggested I interview Cockburn. I ended up back stage after the gig with several other interested parties and chatted to Bruce while he signed someone else’s box of Cockburn vinyl. I wrote up the gig for John Platt’s Comstock Lode fanzine and sent a copy to Bruce’s management. When True North released Cockburn’s Inner City Front LP later that year they sent me a copy of the album and a press pack.

Since then I have seen Cockburn play live each time he has played the UK, interviewed Bruce on a few occasions and reviewed his releases in a variety of places. In 1986 Jerry Gilbert drove me to Cologne to see the magnificent World of Wonders band play that city’s decommissioned art deco railway station waiting room and in 1989 I started the occasional newsletter Cala Luna. In 1997 I visited Daniel Keebler in Snohomish and subsequently made occasional contributions to Gavin’s Woodpile newsletter which included my 2003 interview with Bruce in Paris sitting outside a café on bustling street in the Place De La Republique.

For years I said to my self “One day I will travel to Canada and see Cockburn play in his own country when he is playing with the right musicians”.

When the dates of Cockburn’s current tour were publicized he was not due to play the UK, not even solo. I reviewed a promotional copy of Bruce’s new CD Small Source of Comfort for Gavin’s Woodpile website just in time for the release at the beginning of March this year. As the new material became familiar to me the musical potential of the live trio in concert comprising Bruce, Gary Craig on drums & percussion and Jenny Scheinman on violin began to fill my head. Cockburn’s new CD was days away from release but there were still tickets available for the shows at Massey Hall, Toronto and Kingston, Ontario. I seized the moment and purchased concert tickets, an air fare, three hotel nights and a train ticket. Word went out of my intended visit and Bruce said Kingston would be the place to say hello.

The day after leaving home I had an hour in downtown Toronto before taking the train to Kingston. It was Friday 8th April. I walked  up Yonge Street and happened upon Massey Hall in a side street with Bruce Cockburn billed in the frame on the front elevation. The reality of my trip kicked in.

Some of the train ride to Kingston hugged the shore of Lake Ontario. “And the great lake rolling forever to the narrow gray beach” from Isn’t That What Friends Are For was right before my eyes with tree trunk driftwood on the shore. Kingston is a city with a population of 120,000 located in Eastern Ontario where the St Lawrence River flows out of Lake Ontario. It is a college town where Bruce has lived from time to time. Later that afternoon I found myself at The Grand Theatre with Bruce introducing me to Jenny and Gary.

I had also lucked into two gigs to be attended by Annabelle Chvostek (formerly of The Wailin’ Jennys and now a solo artist in her own right). Annabelle would join the trio for two numbers that she wrote with Bruce and now released on Small Source of Comfort. Chvostek arrived at the sound check as the other musicians were setting up. I had not seen Cockburn play live since three solo dates in the UK in January 2007. The air was electric as Bruce commenced the sound check with a performance of Driving Away, the sedate ballad with keening vocals. Different sections of Boundless followed with a great extended complete performance. When Bruce and the others were satisfied Annabelle left the stage.

The trio is a truly magical combination. Gary has a wonderful set of drums and percussion which he plays with a deftness that delivers in all genres. Craig has a lightness of touch to accompany acoustic guitar and violin and can whip up a storm for the electric numbers without overwhelming them. Jenny also has a range of styles which brings both beautiful melodies to the songs while her jazz sensibility brings different colors to both accompaniment and solos.

Touring has developed the performance of Five Fifty-One to have a powerful addictive rhythm. Cockburn then suggested playing Put It In Your Heart. Gary was the drummer on the original recording but Jenny brought a spine tingling edge to the performance. The sound crew brought on the dulcimer and its stand for a rendition of Arrows of Light made all the more hypnotic with Jenny’s violin. Humor and bonhomie pervade the afternoon and while the sound is clarified one of the crew murmurs “dirt in the jack” which Bruce picked up as an amusing phrase! Bone in My Ear with Cockburn on charango was also given an outing. This is one of my favorite songs from Dart to The Heart and once again Jenny brought an added dimension to the rendition. With Bruce happy he left Jenny and Gary to rehearse her set and I strolled back out into the Kingston sunshine.

As I walked up Princess Street I checked out a few shops and came across a weird and wonderful store called Brian’s Record Option which was teeming with bulging racks and precarious piles of music books, LPs, cassettes, 8 tracks ,78s etc. I could have spent a month in there but I just didn’t have time to do it justice so I left empty handed. Check out the YouTube videos testifying about the store including one in which Brian tells a great story about a 78. .

The Grand Theatre, Kingston is a circa 800 seater venue built in 1879 and its latest restoration was completed in 2008. I was in the balcony for the concert. Jenny opened the show and held the audience in the palm of her hand with her voice and minimal instrumentation. Gary also joined her to flesh out the sound.

After an intermission, the trio came out for a twenty one number concert. Bruce was as sartorially elegant as ever in concert in dark T shirt with bright symbol on the rear left shoulder and leather boots. The first three numbers The Last Night of the World, Mango and Lovers In Dangerous Time set the standard. Jenny’s violin in Mango made that number even more sensual.

Cockburn’s solo guitar skills were displayed in an exquisite rendition of Ancestors, from the new album, accompanied by Gary on an array of percussion including a singing bowl and Jenny playing Gary’s frame of Tibetan bells.

Annabelle came on for Driving Away performed as honed in the afternoon and Boundless bookended with Cockburn playing the impressive array of drum pedal operated chimes. Chvostek’s mandolin section and Craig’s’ pounding drums on the latter were worth the price of the admission.

The trio continued to bring quality and diversity out of the bag. Strange Waters, from the Charity of Night album, was taken down to a slower tempo and re-orientated for Jenny’s violin – a masterful arrangement. This was followed by two of Jenny’s own numbers. The first was the instrumental Albert, a jazz work out for all three musicians. The title is a reference to the saxophone genius Albert Ayler who produced his most potent work in the 1960s. The second was The Littlest Prisoner. Bruce contributed to the original studio take which is only available as a download from Scheinman’s website.

Five Fifty-One was performed with the new yomping rhythm. Cockburn’s dialogue with the audience throughout the concert was cordial and particularly sensitive for the introduction of Each One Lost which was played with stately reverence.

Bruce lifted the mood with Wondering Where The Lions Are including audience participation on the chorus, changed tempo with Arrows of Light and closed the set with a fiery If A Tree Falls.

The audience called the trio back and they performed four encores. Rocket Launcher included added violin, All The Diamonds was hymn like, the humorous Tie Me At The Crossroads increased the tempo again and Bruce finished with the single versed Gifts.

After the show Cockburn and Scheinman signed merchandise. I chatted with Gary and Cockburn’s tour manager and Bruce unexpectedly invited me to The Massey Hall sound check!

The next day, Saturday 9th April, I took the train back to Toronto. The sunny day made Lake Ontario look like the Mediterranean. Massey Hall, the circa 2,750 seat concert hall, is an iconic venue. The Hall was a gift from the Massey family to the City of Toronto in 1894. The live recording of Bruce Cockburn’s first band was captured here on 8th & 9th April 1977 and released as the double LP Circles in the Stream later that year. The concert I would attend at the venue was 34 years later to the day and Bruce would play two of the same songs.

I arrived at the sound check just as Driving Away was being played and sat in front of the rear hall sound desk next to Bernie Finkelstein, Bruce’s manager. The last time I met Bernie was a few years ago at The Union Chapel in London. Between numbers I chatted to him about his autobiography which he explained was in the editing stage. In addition to his music managing role the book will include details of Bernie’s early teenage years in the 1950s living with his parents in Radcliffe on Trent, Nottingham, UK and his exposure to skiffle. There will also be a section in the book on the Back to the Land movement. At the end of the 1960s Bernie headed to a commune south west of The Algonquin Provincial Park near the town of Killaloe, Eastern Ontario.

While discussing these enticing subjects Bruce was putting the trio through their paces including the numbers Called Me Back, If A Tree Falls and the lively instrumental Comets of Kandahar with Bruce on his solid blue electric guitar.

The evening concert was treated by the musicians with gravitas and grace. It was a little cooler in this larger hall and Bruce was wearing his black jersey with the large blue roundel on the front. My seat was in the stalls stage left but still with a good view. The set list was in a different sequence to Kingston and included some different numbers. Once again the highlights for me were the poise of Ancestors, the re- arrangement of Strange Waters and in this set the humorous Called Me Back. Albert went un-credited by Bruce but was a tour de force. Between numbers one member of the audience called out what turned out to be an unrecorded Cockburn song from the 60s. Bruce’s response was “How do you even know the name of that song? – I wont’ be playing it but thanks for asking!” Wondering Where The Lions Are was embellished with audience vocals before the dulcimer of Arrows of Light filled the hall. This was one of the numbers recorded here 34 years ago tonight for Circles in the Stream. If A Tree Falls was a fine show closer.

The band came back and started with an electrifying Comets of Kandahar – even more out there than the sound check. I got the impression the audience were caught off guard with the musical assault. The audience then gasped with recognition as Bruce played the opening to All The Diamonds as the second encore. Once again the sound was excellent and the camouflage stage hanging and understated lighting all contributed to first class presentation. It was wonderful to hear the set for the second time in such a prestigious hall and afforded me the luxury of observing more detail. On Boundless how does Gary play a shaker in his right hand and kick up a storm with drum pedal and stick in the other hand? Bruce was positively radiant – grinning and smiling - at Jenny’s playing.

For me this line up is the best of Cockburn’s trios since I saw the musicians touring Big Circumstance in 1989 in the UK. Bruce was backed by Fergus Marsh on stick and Mike Sloski on drums. The concert in the hall on the beach at St Austell, Cornwall was particularly spectacular.

At the end of the show Gary appeared to meet a small group of people and I went up to say thank you for a great concert. To my surprise Gary invited me to the after show party in the basement of the Hall. The group of people turned out to be his family “Richard – go with my mother” as one of the others thrust the adhesive pass in my hand. The party was held in a large room with a bar which included the ubiquitous signed photographs and articles mounted on the walls by artists who have performed at the venue. As I chatted to Gary’s family they pointed out other guests from the world of Cockburn.

I spoke with Michael Wrycraft about his CD artwork for Cockburn and enthused about the material for Breakfast In New Orleans, Dinner In Timbuktu. Michael told me that the original artwork had been exhibited in a prestigious Toronto gallery for a while. Hugh Marsh was there and I spoke to him about seeing him at the Humans gig in London, the World of Wonders gig in Cologne and a Mary Margaret O’Hara show in London. Hugh now composes soundtrack material for film. I also chatted to Jon Goldsmith, the producer of Cockburn albums including Stealing Fire and Life Short Call Now. He also composes for film and his accolades include a BAFTA for the music to the UK TV movie Sex Traffic.

My time was up and I said thank you to Gary and Jenny. As I was saying farewell to Bruce I told him I felt like I was walking through the lyrics of Inner City Front in Toronto and he gave me directions for my walk the next day. The evening was summed up by Bernie – “Richard, you saw a great concert tonight”. This from the man that has seen more than 40 years of Cockburn shows.

Sunday brought moisture in the air but I was determined to walk from Carlton Street to Yorkville and then Kensington Market before the flight home. The rain turned heavy however so I was forced inside to HMV on Yonge Street. I bought three Canadian CDs to spur me on my way:-

1. Avenue Road by Kensington Market (1968) – Re-mastered for CD and now with sleeve notes by Nicholas Jennings released by Pacemaker Entertainment Ltd 2008. I was headed for Avenue Road in Yorkville with a distant memory of the timeless bassoon on Aunt Violet’s Knee and Looking Glass. Band member Gene Martynec would go on to produce more than a decade of Cockburn’s albums.

2. Sweeping The Spotlight Away by Murray McLauchlan (1974) – Re-mastered for CD and re-released on True North. Cockburn fans want it for Bruce’s contribution to the title track however I prefer the opening number Down By The Henry Moore which was also a successful 45 rpm single for McLauchlan .

“I walked down to Kensington Market Bought me a fish to fry I went to the Silver Dollar Looked a stranger in the eye A friend of mine says That he don’t think this town’s so out of sight But he’s got shades all ‘round his soul And he thinks he’s seen the light”

Murray must have been singing about Bruce in the second part of that verse!

3. Beautiful – A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot on Borealis Records (2003) with great versions of The Way I Feel by The Cowboy Junkies and Sundown by Jesse Winchester as well as Ribbons Of Darkness by Cockburn. It’s one of those tribute albums that Bruce contributed to that slipped through my net on release.

After the rain the gentrified Yorkville was interesting to walk through to get a sense of yesteryear. Oh to have been around when The Riverboat was an active club. On the way to Kensington Market I passed through Spadina and College that inspired the song Inner City Front. The Market was sunny and vibrant on my visit.

In Augusta Avenue I discovered Paradise Bound a wonderful small shop that sold LPs and antique Japanese prints! I found a True North pressing of Big Circumstance that I wanted for my collection. As I paid for my purchase Coyote recalled how his father had played him Stealing Fire on release and how the songwriting really hit home. “Bruce has been in here and bought some weird music!” added Coyote. Many of the Japanese prints on the walls of the shop included blossoms. I eased the dust jacket out of Big Circumstance sleeve and read the following verse aloud from Understanding Nothing:-

Rhododendrons in bloom, sharp against spring snow Remind me of another time In Japanese temple There was a single Orange blossom At the wrong time of year Seemed like a sign When I looked again It was gone

“Do you have a sheet of cardboard I could have so the album survives my flight home?” I enquire. “I can do better than that” says Coyote “here put the album in the middle of this” as he hands me a well worn copy of James Brown’s Sex Machine double album and a clear plastic record bag which I proceeded to parade through Kensington Market. This seemed all the more amusing given Bruce’s between song story the previous night about avoiding castration in Mozambique!

My whole adventure was an unrepeatable trip in which years of musical interest were somehow imbued with synergy and happenstance. My thanks to Daniel Keebler for his invaluable assistance, my wife Mary and all the people I met who gave so freely of their time.

Photographs by Richard Hoare except Bruce and Richard by Gary Craig

1. Train at Union Station, Toronto    2. Massey Hall forthcoming appearances    3. Poster at The Grand Theatre, Kingston    4. Massey Hall, Toronto    5. Gary Craig at sound check    6. Massey Hall sign    7. Richard Hoare and Bruce Cockburn    8. Jenny Scheinman, Hugh Marsh and Jon Goldsmith    9. Paradise Bound


May 6, 2011
The Washington Post

Bruce Cockburn With Band
by Geoffrey Himes

Bruce Cockburn’s concerts attract two kinds of fans. There are those who are fascinated by his lyrics, by his concise descriptions of global trouble spots and aphorisms about spiritual hunger. Then there are those who hang on his guitar solos — the 65-year-old Canadian is a virtuoso at lilting melodies with a darker counterpoint.

Cockburn offers something for both camps on his new album, “Small Source of Comfort.” There’s a very funny song, “Call Me Rose,” about Richard Nixon being reincarnated as a single mother in a housing project; a very moving song, “Each One Lost,” about seeing the caskets of two Canadian soldiers; and a secular hymn, “The Iris of the World,” about the portals between the realms of our lives. The album also offers five instrumentals that push Cockburn’s syncopations and unconventional harmonies where words can’t follow.

“I like playing guitar,” Cockburn says. “It’s the thing that got me into music in the first place long before songwriting. . . . I was playing in rock bands, and I had written some poetry, but I never thought of writing songs until the mid-’60s, when I discovered Bob Dylan and John Lennon. . . . But my scope was a little broader than my contemporaries who came to songwriting at the same time just knowing a few folk chords. I had been exposed to other kinds of players, especially when I went to the Berklee School of Music. The jazz guys there were listening to Arabic and Asian music, so I did, too.”

Jenny Scheinman, who is featured prominently on “Small Source of Comfort” and is in the trio Cockburn is bringing to the Birchmere on Monday, belongs to both groups of Cockburn fans. After all, before she became one of the world’s most respected jazz violinists, she was a country-folk fiddler in Northern California. She has released six instrumental jazz albums as well as an Americana singer-songwriter disc, so she is sympathetic to Cockburn’s balancing act. “I was still in high school when I got his album ‘Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws,’ and I loved it,” Scheinman recalls. “The images were so strong. When he sang about eternity in lovemaking, eternity in nature and eternity in war on ‘Wondering Where the Lions Are,’ it seemed so adventurous, so sexy. . . . But I was drawn to the music, too, because these weren’t simple chords like most of the folk and country songs I’d heard. These songs stuck in my head not as chord changes, but as guitar patterns with melodies, the same way you don’t hear Bach as chord changes but as patterns.”

Throughout his career Cockburn has swung between loud electric bands and quiet acoustic bands. “Small Source of Comfort” is his most acoustic project in a while, and two of the songs — “The Comets of Kandahar” and “Each One Lost” — were inspired by a 2009 trip to Afghanistan to visit his brother John, a doctor in the Canadian army.

“I’d been in war zones before,” Cockburn says, referring to trips to places such as Chiapas, Mexico, where he wrote his famous song “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” for the guerillas. “But this was different because this time I went with the army. It felt a lot safer for one thing, because you were with the guys who had the tanks. . . . But you can’t go to a place like that, no matter how much adrenaline you feel, no matter how much fun you have seeing people, and not be in an ocean of pain.”

One antidote on the album is humor, evident on such tracks as “Call Me Rose” and “Called Me Back,” which pokes fun at a friend who doesn’t return a phone call. “The job is to write about life,” Cockburn says, “which includes humor as much as it does meanness, violence, sex and love. If you can’t laugh about it, you’re screwed. What’s the point of another angry song about Richard Nixon? By keeping it light in tone, you can write about guilt and redemption. And everyone deserves redemption unless they refuse it.”

The other antidote is the instrumental music, which reaches for solace in the entrancing Celtic arpeggios of “Bohemian 3-Step” or the gypsy bounce of “Parnassus and Fog.”

“People sometimes ask me, ‘If you had to give up music or words, which would it be?’ ” Cockburn says. “I used to say music, because the words meant so much to me, but now I feel as if I’ve already used a lot of words and I want to do more music.”

When Cockburn, Scheinman and drummer Gary Craig perform, some in the audience will be hanging on the words while others will be waiting for the solos. But the musicians will have to concentrate on the connective tissue — the way the lyrics specify what the melodies are implying and the way the chords expand the meaning of each phrase. Cockburn’s songs really work best when the two halves come together.


May 5, 2011
Canada NewsWire

Canadian Music Hall of Famer Bruce Cockburn gets stamped

OTTAWA, May 5 /CNW/ - Canada Post today announced the addition of Canadian music icon Bruce Cockburn to the Canadian Recording Artists stamp series. He joins four more outstanding Canadian singer-songwriters, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Robbie Robertson and Ginette Reno for the third installment of the very popular series. The four Canadian Recording Artists stamps will be issued on June 30, 2011.

Bruce Cockburn was born in 1945 in Ottawa. In his 1964 high school yearbook Bruce stated his desire simply: "hopes to become a musician." And the rest as they say is history.

Cockburn has recorded 31 albums including 20 gold and platinum. He has received 13 Juno awards and in recognition of his lifelong contributions to Canadian music, culture and social activism, he has been awarded seven honorary doctorates. He received the Order of Canada in 1983, and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame in 2002.

"We're proud to be able to add one more honour to Bruce Cockburn's achievements," said Jim Phillips, Director of Stamp Marketing for Canada Post. "We hope that he will continue to make music and make change for a very long time to come."

"This is very exciting," said Cockburn. "I think the design is beautiful and I'm deeply honoured that Canada Post has seen fit to include me in their Canadian Recording Artists stamp series."

Winnipeg designer Circle Design Inc. showcases an image of Cockburn on a CD-shaped booklet. The stamp features a monochromatic photo of the recording artist alongside his Order of Canada insignia. Fans will notice that many of their most well-known song lyrics appear in the background of the booklet cover.

Bruce Cockburn is currently on tour in the United States promoting his 31st album, Small Source of Comfort. 


May 4, 2011
The Saratogian

Bruce Cockburn: Rebirth of the 'Rocket Launcher'
by Don Wilcock

Bruce Cockburn, who is playing at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Egg in Albany, was totally shocked when his song “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” became a hit in 1984. Inspired by a visit to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico that were attacked before and after his visit, the song ends with the line, “If I had a rocket launcher, some son of a bitch would die.”

“It (seemed) totally impossible to me that anybody would put that on the radio, and then all of a sudden there it was all over the place. It helped me get an audience in the states that I didn’t have prior to that,” said the Canadian singer/songwriter/ guitarist who has just released his 31st studio LP, “Small Source of Comfort.”

Cockburn is almost as ubiquitous in Canada as Dylan is here. The winner of 13 Juno Awards (Canada’s Grammy), an officer in the Order of Canada, and a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, he is known for his oblique and sometimes somber songwriting style. “Rocket Launcher” is certainly not typical of his style, which runs from acoustic folk to electric. The new LP, getting deservedly rave reviews, finds him reflective, sometimes funny and quirky as in “Call Me Rose,” written from the perspective of Richard Nixon reincarnated as a single mother of two living in the projects.

“Maybe it matters to have my thoughts on a page that are different from the songs people are used to,” Cockburn said about his memoirs due out in April of next year. He’s having an internal struggle as he tries to get into the actual writing. “Is it really worth doing this and do I really want to take out of the songs the mystery that people feel and reduce it to a reality that’s boring to everyone? Is it like maybe the mystery is better?”

He’d been asked about having an authorized biography written when he was in his 40s and 50s, but it was easy then to say that he hadn’t done enough. But now, at 65, he’s committed, and the task is staring him in the face. “I’ve been very slack about getting it together. I have to say, I’m kind of wrestling myself with that one. I mean, I’m obliged to do it because I signed a contract, and when the part of my mind that likes the idea is dominant, then I’m into it, but a lot of the time I’m saying to myself, I don’t know if there needs to be a book like this. It doesn’t make sense. So I have to fight myself all the time to get myself to work on it, and eventually it will get done.”

It must be daunting for a man who has spent more than 40 years writing cryptic three-minute songs to suddenly commit to a long form analysis of the thought processes that go into those little gems. In the song “Five Fifty-One,” for example, he sings about “diesel in the breeze” and “middle of the night cops came knocking on my door.”

The images come out of a real experience he had at his girlfriend’s apartment in Brooklyn. “If it isn’t at least close to being your experience then you shouldn’t be writing about it at all unless you’re just asking questions in your song,” he said. “If the job is to tell the truth, then you’re supposed to know what the truth is.”

Cockburn has removed the self-imposed filter he put on his emotions as a writer when, in 1968, he wrote “Gifts,” where he sings: “We may walk within these walls and share our gifts with you.”

“Within myself there were self-imposed restrictions that were not even conscious in the beginning. Sometimes there’re feelings you don’t share. Sometimes there are things you don’t look at too closely. So all these sorts of judgments that young people have are more prone to and most of us hopefully lose as we get older, but I allow myself more freedom than I did in the beginning.”

On “Boundless,” a song he co-wrote with Annabelle Chvostek, he sings, “All I wanted all along is to be the ‘you’ in somebody’s song.’ ”

“It’s true when you think about it. What do we want from being alive? We want to be loved, and we want not to be lonely, and we want to feel like we mean something. So (the song) is just saying that, in effect. Every time I hear a songwriter, particularly a female songwriter who impresses me, I want to be the ‘you’ in their song.”

Tickets are $34.50 and $29.50. Call 473-1845 or go to


 May 1, 2011

Cockburn offers cosmic, emotional music anchored in radicalism
by John Timpane

On A Small Source of Comfort, the 31st studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, his agile guitar steps forward in a mostly acoustic album.

Cockburn, who comes to the Keswick Theatre on Friday, offers songs that are inventive, rootsy, dark, and joyful. Add violin goddess Jenny Scheinman, who shines on the CD's five sparkling instrumentals and will perform with him at the Keswick.

It feels much like Dancing in the Lion's Jaws (1979) and Humans (1981), in which Cockburn's songs - cosmic, emotional, yet surely crafted - alongside his throaty tenor and poetry, earned him an international following.

"It was intentional," says Cockburn, 65, speaking from San Francisco. "It reminds me of my '70s albums, very folky. . . . And the instrumental pieces add to that. Jenny basically learned them in the studio."

Scheinman, speaking from Petrolia, Calif., says much of the album "incubated as we played as a duo, which we did a lot in Brooklyn. What's so attractive about his music is, a lot of his songs are these perfect pop structures - but they're also so big, so cosmic and open, and he invited me, gave me freedom to explore."

Comfort is a quiet album, seldom raising its voice. Two of its loveliest songs, "Driving Away" and "Boundless," were cowritten with accomplished songstress Annabelle Chvostek. But "a lot of these songs," Cockburn says, "come from the same place as 'Rocket Launcher.' "

That's "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," the famous - or to some minds, infamous - track on Cockburn's 1984 album, Stealing Fire, in which the speaker, furious at government persecution in South America, cries

when I talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher . . . I would retaliate

Song and album signaled a turn for Cockburn, to an insistent, committed political stance that spoke out against oppression. That stance - along with Cockburn's oceanic, pervading spirituality - is deeply embedded in Small Source of Comfort, as in the humorous "Call Me Rose," in which the soul of Richard Nixon gets a chance to redeem itself - by coming back as a poor welfare mother:

I'm back here learning what it is to be poor
to have no power but the strength to endure
I'll perform my penance well
maybe the memoir will sell

It's in a passing line from "Five Fifty-One," one of several road songs on the album. The speaker finds the smell of dawn "a small source of comfort":

out on the sidewalk there was diesel on the breeze
they're always getting away with something when they think there's no one there to see

And it rises to a crescendo in "Each One Lost." Cockburn explains that en route from Ottawa to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, he spent a few hours at a NATO staging base in Dubai: "We were waiting to board our plane when a C-130 landed with the bodies of two Canadian soldiers who'd been killed that day, and there was a ramp ceremony, of which we became a part, to honor the risk and sacrifice of the two men."

Some would have us bow
in bondage to their dreams
of little gods who lay down laws to live by
but all these inventions
arise from fear of love
and openhearted tolerance and trust

Well screw the rule of law
we want the rule of love
enough to fight and die to keep it coming
if that sounds like confusion
brother think again
we know exactly what we chose

These uncompromising lyrics are sung against a sweet backing reminiscent of a hymn.

"It works in several directions," he says. "Those soldiers were on the front end of a struggle against fascist fundamentalists. But the same war is going on in America and Europe, against those who would have us all live by a single set of rules, theirs, under pain of death."

What happened to radicalize a singer who once kept to love and matters of the spirit? "I saw the Third World and saw what was happening there," Cockburn says. "I once thought art and politics shouldn't mix, but that's transparently false - think of [John McCrae's poem] 'Flanders Fields.' The power of Guernica lies in Picasso's outrage. When art mixes with the political, it becomes powerful for change, becomes threatening to regimes."

A Small Source of Comfort ends with a gift - the tune "Gifts," with which Cockburn closed concerts back in the day, but never put on a recording until now. Why now?

"I told Bernie Finkelstein, my manager at the time, 'I'm saving it for my last album,' " Cockburn says. "When he heard it was on Small Comfort, he asked me, "Anything I should know?" I said, 'It's just in case. There may be more albums, but who knows?' "


April 17, 2011

Review: Bruce Cockburn shows no signs of slowing down
by Robert Reid

Bruce Cockburn continues to thumb his nose at the clock.

At 66 years of age, the multiple Juno winner sounds as good as ever and his guitar playing remains impeccable.

Likewise, the songs on his 31st album, the recently released Small Source of Comfort, surrender nothing for being new.

Cockburn completed the Canadian leg of his North American tour last night with a stop at Centre in the Square. It was like the return of a favourite uncle bearing musical gifts.

“It’s been a really great run,” he noted. “Thank you for joining us tonight.”

Attired in black pants and matching shirt, with a red tie bearing a Haida design, he alternated among five guitars: three six-string acoustics, a 12-string acoustic and electric resonator guitar. He also played hammered dulcimer on one tune.

He was joined by longtime drummer/percussionist Gary Craig and Brooklyn-based singer, violin (as well as bouzouki and mandolin) player, songwriter, composer and arranger Jenny Scheinman. Both appear on Small Source of Comfort.

It was clear from his set list that Cockburn selected songs that were particularly well suited to a trio setting. He was obviously content to share the spotlight with both Craig and Scheinman.

Craig is an innovative and subtle drummer/percussionist who is always in sync with Cockburn’s virtuoso guitar work.

Scheinman, who also opened, is the latest in a string of talented violinists to perform with Cockburn.

Named the Rising Star Violinist in Downbeat’s critics poll and judged one of the magazine’s Top Ten Overall Violinists for the last five years, Scheinman has played with an impressive list of artists including Lucinda Williams, Bono, Lou Reed, Bill Frisell, Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

Cockburn obviously enjoyed the musical conversation he struck up with Scheinman, not to mention their vocal harmonies.

His 90-minute, uninterrupted set featured 15 songs and two instrumentals including Five Fifty One, Call Me Rose, Radiance, The Iris of the World and Each One Lost from Small Source of Comfort.

He opened with Breakfast in New Orleans and ended with If a Tree Falls. En route, some of his most popular songs generated the most enthusiastic audience response including Lovers in a Dangerous Time, Tokyo, Strange Waters and Wonder Where the Lions Are.

Cockburn is both articulate and witty, but he confined his comments to polite pleasantries, save for his introduction to Each One Lost, inspired by two soldiers killed in action during his trip to Afghanistan in 2009.

He received a thunderous standing ovation, which brought him back for a four-number encore, kicked off with an instrumental followed by All the Diamonds, Tie Me to the Crossroads and Gifts, a song written in 1968 with which he used to end his concerts but remained unrecorded until his latest album.

Scheinman opened with seven songs over 30 minutes. She proved a beguiling performer, at once old-timey and contemporary, who sang while plucking the violin ukulele-like. She also performed her original The Littlest Prisoner accompanied by Cockburn during his set.


April 2011
The Alternate Root

Bruce Cockburn, 40 Years of Integrity
by Danny McCloskey

Forty years. You pick up a guitar, try and to play. You learn to strike chords, and to write, start to play out, get gigs, move away from your point of origin, spread your music out, build, add and, suddenly, it is 2011. There is more longevity for artists in the new music world but what separates Bruce Cockburn is his commitment to cause, in his case, humanity. Like troubadours taking the news from town to town, Bruce fulfills the role with dignity and integrity. More talking heart than head, Cockburn builds songs around life. On ‘Small Source of Comfort’, the narrators tell their tales, their lives create the message. “Call Me Rose” takes the story of a welfare mother with former life memory that lets her know she was the king of the world, the boss of the bosses. As Rose talks of today, and her life as Richard Nixon, two tales lock on target. Not a life the former would have chosen but one that is  made easier by the endurance of the current incarnation. The loss of life is described with real time sorrow, over an equally mournful accordion, in “Each One Lost”. The track is a personal tale of Bruce’s experiences in Afghanistan and his witnessing the ceremonial honoring of two Canadian soldiers. ‘Small Source of Comfort’ is Bruce Cockburn’s (insert drum roll here), thirty-first album.

The Alternate Root (TAR): Forty years on. Are the changes too numerous to mention?

Bruce Cockburn (BC): Technology has changed, circumstances, everything costs more. My last studio album was five or six years  ago. I used a whole orchestra and burned through the budget pretty well. That is going to change for me.

TAR: From the outside, you seem like an artist who has always had a clear intention, guiding their own career.

BC: Not sure how much of a hands on approach I had in the beginning. Experiences have changed over the years for musicians. It may have been easier to compromise in the early years, there were more things offered. There was a point when I had a decision to make about direction. In the end, I decided that artistic integrity mattered more than anything else. I went after things with that idea.

TAR: Did you start out as a solo act?

BC: I played in rock bands through the second half of the 60’s, alternating with the band and things I was doing with solo acoustic gigs. Playing solo was always there. At the end of the 60’s, I decided I liked my songs when I sang them alone.

TAR: Did your playing style develop as well?

BC: When you are learning to play, you start out imitating somebody, you develop. I tried to play like Mississippi John Hurt.

TAR: Blues came in early for you?

BC: Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler as well as the old blues guys. They could play to young white audiences and get their music across. That is impressive. Their songs and stories had more to do with their circumstances. They were doing their original music.

TAR: None of the compromises you mentioned?

BC: Seems like there is a lot of accommodating to everyone’s taste. They (the original blues men) wanted to follow their own ideas and not negotiate. I got into rock when I started playing with bands, I started to get rocking again in the 80’s. I go with where the songs go.

TAR: No plan to create music that ‘fits’ into a pipeline?

BC: I don’t really think about the music. When I’ve got a bunch of words, that determines the direction.

TAR: Sounds like you let the songs form easily.

BC: People think things need to happen fast. We live in world that speeds up every year. You don’t have to be in a big hurry. Musicians think that they can’t get a gig unless they have a CD out. That is what creates crappy music, throwing it together to get it out. It may be that writing fast is easier for some, though, everybody is different.

TAR; You have had massive radio success in the past, does that help with you being able to create on your own terms.

BC: “If I Had A Rocket Launcher”? I suppose it got played a lot on the radio. I think it helped though there are other times when I think that people are tired of hearing it.

TAR: After thirty one albums, do you still find sparks in recording?

BC: You never see everything, so there is always something new. To me, this album was about light, the light that informs us in contrast to dark stuff. This is a more joyful record.

TAR: You have some co-writes on ‘Small Source of Comfort’

BC: Yes, though this is not the first time I have recorded co-written work. The two songs with Annabelle Chvostek (Montreal-based  singer/songwriter) are quite different. They are presented as duets. I have never written a song where it was such a collaborative effort. In other instances, sometimes the songs were more my words, someone else’s music.

TAR: Will Annabelle be touring with you?

BC: We wrote them as pieces you could play together. Hopefully we will have some occasion to do that.

TAR: And tour plans?

BC: We started out in Colona, British Columbia. Right now, I am on west coast of the United States, in San Francisco, where my girlfriend lives. I am driving east to start rehearsing and hit the road. I will head back up to Canada. We start up in early May in New York. The touring band is another trio. Gary Craig on drums and Jenny Scheinman on violin. Jenny will be opening the shows.

More on tour dates, music, and forty years of experience can be found on Bruce Cockburn's website,


 April 17, 2011
The Ottawa Citizen

Cockburn matches biting political wit with smooth guitar work -Hometown hero and bandmates put on a clinic 
by Bruce Ward

Bruce Cockburn had errant mankind and mortality on his mind throughout his splendid concert Friday night at the National Arts Centre's Southam Hall.

But, hell, when doesn't he?

Cockburn rounded up the usual suspects -political sleazeballs, war's cost in human terms, the elusiveness of lasting love -in songs drawn from Small Source of Comfort, his latest album, and in other pieces going back 35 years or so.

If this sounds dispiriting, like starting the weekend with homework, it wasn't at all. Think celebration of the human spirit instead.

At 65, Cockburn is showing a playful side, a capacity to appreciate life's small joys as age bears down on him.

Surely one reason Cockburn is so upbeat is because he's working with top-flight percussionist Gary Craig and violinist Jenny Scheinman, who also opened the show with a delightful six-song set.

In full flight, the three of them are a hot little trio indeed.

Cockburn received a hometown hero's welcome when he stepped on stage and opened with a buoyant Last Night Of The World.

Mango saw Scheinman dish out a tasty solo, matched by Cockburn's flashy runs on guitar.

Cockburn's puckish sense of the absurd shone on Called Me Back, a mocking riff on people who are forever on their cellphone having pointless conversations for no particular reason.

Call Me Rose, one of the most striking songs on the new CD, is a whatif fantasy in which Richard Nixon comes back as a girl who lives in poverty. Not sure how he pulls it off, but Cockburn makes it work.

Cockburn is a premier singersongwriter, which makes us forget at times that he is an exceptional guitarist as well. He proved it again with Ancestors, an instrumental from the new CD, which sounded something like a rippling recruitment tune for bliss seekers.

Craig, who played his behind off all night, provided accents with bells and gongs that would have fit in at a Buddhist shrine.

After a rousing If I Had A Rocket Launcher, Cockburn spoke about playing the song for appreciative troops at a forward operating base in Afghanistan in the fall of 2009. He then played Each One Lost, a poignant new song about the ramp ceremonies used by the Canadian military to honour our fallen soldiers. Its haunting melody suggests a reworked version of a civil war lament for the dead.

The new songs were welcomed by the nearly full house, but Cockburn did not neglect his hits. Lovers In a Dangerous Time was featured early in the 90-minute set and later Cockburn got the crowd singing along on a lovely lilting version of Wondering Where The Lions Are.

The concert reached its peak with the trio's stunning take on If A Tree Falls, an extended jam with Cockburn and Scheinman trading solos as Craig's propulsive drumming pushed the song to a thunderous climax.

One fan spoke for the audience when he shouted out "Welcome home, Bruce," as the concert got underway. After Cockburn's encores -actually a mini-set featuring All The Diamonds as its centrepiece -the same dude should have shouted "Come back soon."

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen


April 13, 2011
The Times Union

The Other Bruce

Folk rocker Bruce Cockburn doesn't reinvent himself
by Chris Harris/Explore

Before he began writing the songs that would eventually comprise his latest album, A Small Source of Comfort, Canadian folk rocker Bruce Cockburn -- the author of such classic tunes as "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" and "Wondering Where the Lions Are" -- toyed with the idea of completely reinventing himself as an artist. No more would faithful fans hear the Bruce Cockburn they had come to know and love over 23 albums, released over a career spanning more than 40 years. That's because Cockburn decided it was time to change things up.

"After the last album (2006's Life Short Call Now), I thought it would be really nice to change direction," says Cockburn, who will take the stage at The Egg in Albany on May 7. "I was feeling like I wanted to make some real noise, and get out there with majorly-distorted electric guitar and have a noise band, because I like that kind of stuff, bands like Sunn O))) (an overwhelming experimental noise band from Seattle). It just felt like it was time to be loud."

But despite his best intentions, Cockburn ended up writing and recording an album that sounds more like the material he released  during the 1970s, perhaps the most prolific decade of the man's career. "I spent most of my time traveling on my own, and wasn't at my house very much," Cockburn says. He was splitting his time between San Francisco and New York City, living in small apartments. "You can't make that kind of music in an apartment without a lynching by your neighbors, so I ended up always bringing an acoustic guitar with me everywhere, and all of the songs were written that way, so ... "

The end result is one of Cockburn's folkiest efforts in years and marks a period of fruitful collaboration for Bruce. "It's pretty much all acoustic, with drums and bass and stuff, and while it sounds like something I would've released in the '70s, the lyrical content doesn't sound like the '70s, particularly," says Cockburn. "I'm very happy with how it came out, and one of the neat things about it, for me -- and I hope other people will feel this way -- is that there's this jazz violinist named Jenny Scheinman and she plays on the record and will be in the touring band also."

Bruce not only works on the new album with Scheinman -- who has appeared on albums by artists including Ani DiFranco and Lucinda Williams -- but also with Annabelle Chvostek, a former member of the Wailin' Jennys. Cockburn and Chvostek co-wrote two songs on the album and the duo performs a duet.

"She has a terrific musical mind," enthuses the 65-year-old folk rocker, who has had a rather unique and -- ultimately -- eventful career that's been going strong since he struck out on his own. Cockburn launched his solo career in the late 1960s, after being in or working with several Canadian rock bands including The Children, 3's A Crowd, and Olivus. The latter opened for The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream.

"It was quite an experience and Jimi was amazing," Cockburn says. "There's actually a review from the Montreal Gazette, and this is a case where someone was surely hallucinating, because it said something like, 'If it hadn't been that they were opening for Hendrix, we would have stolen the show.' I know he was hallucinating because I know it wasn't that good. But Hendrix was memorable."

On May 7, Cockburn promises an intimate affair at The Egg, with the evening's set divided equally between new material and the songs from Cockburn's extensive catalogue.

"I remember the first time I met Ani DiFranco at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival," says Cockburn. "I had read about Ani but I had never heard her. I went to hear her play, and it was jaw-dropping. I couldn't believe I was hearing such good stuff. I started to think, because there's a fairly large age difference there, and I'm thinking, 'Us old guys should shut up and get out of the way, and let these kids get at it,' because it was so good."

For her finale, DiFranco actually performed one of Bruce's songs, "Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long." "I don't know  what made her do that song, other than the fact she knew I was there, but it just was the loveliest thing to offset that feeling of having kind of lived past my time in a way," he says. "It made a pretty big impression on me."

Cockburn -- who was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1982, an honor he notes is "particularly meaningful" -- says he will continue to make music as long as fans still want to hear what he has to say. But he may be well into his 70s by the time another record's ready for consumption.

"I don't write as much as I used to, partly because I am getting old and partly because I have been around so long. I've just kind of  said a lot of what I have to say," Cockburn says. "To think of a new thing to say or a new way to say something ... it takes longer than it used to."

Bruce Cockburn plays at The Egg on May 7 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $34.50, $29.50, $24.50. Visit for information.


April 10, 2011
The Ottawa Citizen

'His whole life was entertainment'
Drummer kept the beat for Ottawa's top musicians
by Ken Rockburn

"I wasn’t a very good singer but I was a showman.”

And that he was.

Richard Earl Patterson, drummer, tap dancer, singer, and archivist of all things musical, passed away in Ottawa on April 3 at the age of 66, the result of a neurological illness.

An original member of The Esquires, he went on to play with the seminal ’60s folk-rock group The Children, and with the band 3’s A Crowd.

Sandy Crawley’s very first friend in Fisher Park High School was “a guy who was one grade ahead of me and he was already staging the school concert, directing it and choreographing numbers for other people. And that was Richard.” With a stint as a model for Ottawa’s then leading bakery Morrison Lamothe under his belt, “there was a showbiz frisson there,” Crawley recalls.

In later years Richard would become affectionately known as The Round Mound of Sound because he was short and, well, round. But people were always amazed at how light on his feet he was when he danced. At just eight years old he was winning tap dancing and step dancing contests in the Ottawa Valley. A family friend brought him to the legendary Chaudière nightclub in Hull and introduced him to a large black man in one of the dressing rooms. Crawley knows the story:

“The black man says, ‘I’ll play something and you can dance.’ It was Satchmo (famed trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong). Ricky didn’t know. He had no idea who that was. Satchmo was playing the Chaudière.”

The actor Paul Rainville wrote a poem about it called When Ricky Danced for Pops. This is the last verse:

And as the boy put the music in his feet
It got the jazzman swinging right along
And when Ricky danced for Pops down there
Louis grabbed his horn and played the song
He caught the tune that Ricky stepped
And Satchmo played along
Yeah Satchmo played along.

Music was always the centre of Richard’s life, beginning with his first bands, now long forgotten, The Vibra Tones and The Electrons. He was the drummer with the Esquires in 1965 when they backed The Beach Boys at the Auditorium (long since replaced by the downtown Y), and again when they were the first Canadian group to win an RPM Award (now the Junos), and when they made the first Canadian pop music video (The Man from Adano). Being a fan of the British bands that were about to invade North America in the early ’60s, he convinced his bandmates to buy and wear Beatles-style wigs. All, that is, except singer Bob Harrington, who wanted a blond wig (“He said, ‘We’re not going to be like the Beatles, we’re going to be like the Rolling Stones,’ ” Richard recalled).

By the mid-’60s, Richard had become a member of the The Children, whose lineup included Crawley, Neville Wells, William Hawkins, David Wiffen and Bruce Cockburn. Cockburn was just starting to write his own material, and he and Richard clashed over their musical ideas.

“I would get into these terrible fights, with Richard particularly, over that kind of stuff,” recalled Cockburn. “I remember throwing a microphone at him at one point. He had his own ideas about how these things should go and he held his ideas firmly. And it wasn’t so wrong.”

Being a musician might have carried some glamour, but it didn’t pay the bills. During the band’s short lifespan, the Children didn’t get paid much, and by the time they were breaking up, Richard was worried. “I was wondering, ‘What am I gonna do? This is no good, I’m not making enough money out of this job.’

“So Trevor Veitch, who was in 3’s A Crowd and was a non-electric guitar player, said, ‘This is no good. We’re cute, but times have got to move on.’ And he went and bought a Telecaster (guitar). Then he said, ‘We need a drummer and a male singer.’ And that was it.” That male singer was Wiffen, the drummer Richard. The band also included Cockburn, and later a new female singer named Colleen Peterson, who would go on to have a strong solo career before passing away from cancer in 1996.

A gig at Expo 67, seen by Cass Elliott and Denny Doherty of The Mamas and The Papas, led to a recording contract with Dunhill, two hit singles and an album called Christopher’s Movie Matinee. In 1966 and 1967, the group won RPM awards for best folk group. But when Cockburn decided to go solo, 3’s A Crowd broke up. Richard, always the survivor, got together with some of the old Esquires to play a regular weekend date at the Tabu Room of the Beacon Arms Hotel. That group eventually became Canada Goose. Their cover of Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher gave the band a higher profile and better gigs. Yet its members were fearful of giving up their day jobs and Canada Goose disbanded just as they hit it big.

Richard went on to a multi-tasking life as musician — playing with Wiffen, Sneezy Waters, Tom Rush, The Great Speckled Bird and Mike O’Reilly’s Radio Kings — and as a music programmer for CBC Radio, as well as countless other music consulting and production jobs.

Richard was famous for his big heart, as illustrated in this story told by comedian and writer Dan Lalande: In 1998, Ottawa comedian-singer Johnson Moretti was dying. He was a hug fan of the ’60s band Spanky and Our Gang and its lead singer Elaine McFarlane. Lalande mentioned this to Richard who, pretending to be a big shot at the Children’s Wish Foundation, tracked McFarlane down in the States. She called and spent an hour on the phone with Moretti, who called the experience “one of the highlights of my life.”

Moretti died two days later. Richard had never met him. “In my book,” says Lalande, “Richard Patterson goes down as a veritable angel.”

Richard’s longtime friend Doug Orr says the musician’s life “encompassed everybody. He was a true professional. His whole life was entertainment.”

Postscript: EMI will release a new CD of the Esquires singles and other material on May 31.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen


April 6, 2011
The Winnipeg Sun

Cockburn: No small source of comfort
by Darryl Sterdan

“Perfection is elusive,” Bruce Cockburn admitted to about 1,000 fans at the Burt on Tuesday night.

Maybe so. But you know what they say about practice and perfection. And Cockburn has had plenty of practice. Nearly half a century of it, in fact. Enough time to release more than 30 albums and become Canada’s reigning folk-rock figurehead (sorry, Neil; thanks for trying, Joni).

Trying to cram all that history and music into one 110-minute show is impossible. But the 65-year-old singer-guitarist made a pretty fair stab at it in his half-dozenth visit to the city since he played the inaugural Winnipeg Folk Festival back in 1974. Armed with a handful of acoustic guitars and his unmistakably warm pipes, and accompanied only by a percussionist and violinist, Cockburn presented a 21-song set that spanned his career, from his most recent compositions to what he called “the oldest song I know — that I wrote, anyway.”

He started closer to this end of the spectrum, with the spry Last Night of the World and the mellow Mango, both from 1999’s Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu. Clad in black T-shirt and baggy pants tucked into combat-style boots, he looked casual yet serious — though his centre-parted gray hair, glasses and gentle smile gave him the appearance of a preacher at a Bible camp singalong. And come to think of it, those pants might have been just a little too distractingly baggy in the crotch area; I’m not sure drawing attention to his package was the plan, but if so, mission accomplished, dude. But I digress.

Cockburn, on the other hand, wasn’t being distracted, deflecting a steady stream of requests with comebacks like, “Thank you for asking for that.” And really, the fans — roughly divided between faithful old folkies and 20-something newbies — needn’t have worried. Bruce didn’t play every hit he’s ever had — If I Had a Rocket Launcher and Making Contact were notable by their absence. But he included enough of them to keep any folkie satisfied. And changed them up enough to keep the rest of us interested. Lovers in a Dangerous Time was dark and swirling, thanks to his phaser pedal. Tokyo got an energetic delivery, with some slashing guitars. Wondering Where the Lions Are supplied all the Afro-pop chime required by law, with the audience providing the response to his chorus call. The environmental rocker If a Tree Falls retained every bit of its power and passion.

Between those landmarks, there were plenty more highlights for the dedicated. Case in point: The dark ballad Put it in Your Heart. (Said Bruce: “This was my contribution to the plethora of post-9/11 songs, some of which were pretty darn crappy. You’ll have to decide for yourself if it belongs in that category.” Just for the record, it doesn’t.) There was the angry slow-burner Call it Democracy, which prompted a Green Party supporter to yell, “Let Elizabeth May speak,” earning a quick “Shut up!” from a fellow fan (hey, it wouldn’t be a Cockburn show without a little political debate — though the man himself wisely stayed out of it, simply quipping “You’re calling for songs we don’t know” to the pair). Later, the hypnotic Indian-spiced meditation Arrows of Light found Cockburn trading in his emerald-topped acoustic guitar for a droning dulcimer. And a handful of cuts from this year’s upbeat CD Small Source of Comfort — including the spiky blues-rocker Five Fifty-One, the moving military eulogy Each One Lost and the surreal Call Me Rose (which imagines Richard Nixon reincarnated as a ghetto mom) — made it clear Cockburn’s songwriting prowess has not diminished with time.

Nor, obviously, has his taste in bandmates. Percussionist Gary Craig and violinist Jenny Scheinman both proved subtle yet distinctive accompanists, colouring around the edges of Cockburn’s precise fingerpicking and rich melodies. Craig moved deftly between a cymbal-heavy kit to hand drums, adding lightly syncopated grooves and a wealth of clattery textures. Scheinman switched between violins, mandolin and bouzouki, offering ethereal ambience, emotive countermelodies, rootsy ethnic motifs and sweet vocals, even taking the lead on her own Littlest Prisoner (the Brooklyn-based performer also did double-duty as the show's opening act).

By the time the trio closed with a lengthy encore — consisting of the jaunty instrumental Lois on the Autobahn, the seafaring All the Diamonds, the blues-rocking Tie Me at the Crossroads and the short-but-sweet vintage vignette Gifts — Cockburn and co. were no small source of comfort, joy and entertainment.

It may not have been perfect. But it was close enough.

Set List:

Last Night of the World
Lovers in a Dangerous Time
Five Fifty-One
Call Me Rose
Put it in Your Heart
Bone in My Ear
Driving Away
Littlest Prisoner
Call it Democracy
Each One Lost
Wondering Where the Lions Are
Arrows of Light
If a Tree Falls


Lois on the Autobahn
All the Diamonds
Tie Me at the Crossroads


April 6, 2011
Winnipeg Free Press

Canadian icon puts new twist on oldies
by Rob Williams

With subject matter ranging from environmental destruction to war, Bruce Cockburn's songs aren't always comforting, but his fans can always find some solace in his music whether he's dealing with the personal, spiritual or political.

He covered all those bases Tuesday at the Burton Cummings Theatre for an enthusiastic crowd of 970 in support of his 31st album, Small Source of Comfort.

Bruce Cockburn performs at the Burton Cummings Theatre Tuesday night.The last two times the 65-year-old Canadian musical icon was in Winnipeg in 2006 and 2002 (at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and West End Cultural Centre, respectively) he appeared solo, but last night he was joined by violinist Jenny Scheinman - who also served as the opening act - and percussionist Gary Craig for a wide-ranging set that included new songs, greatest hits and album tracks dating back to the mid-1970s.

Cockburn opened with Last Night of the World, questioning what he would do differently if it were his last night on Earth. The song took on a slightly exotic flavour with the addition of Scheinman's violin.

She also offered up fiery, show-stealing solos on Mango and the new Five Fifty-One, and switched over to bouzouki for Tokyo. They even played two of her songs later in the set: the haunting instrumental Albert and the upbeat folk stomper The Littlest Prisoner.

The shimmering Lovers in a Dangerous Time was offered up early in the set, earning rapturous applause as soon as the crowd recognized the opening riff. That song, too, took on a slightly different feel with the tribal drumming of Craig.

Cockburn is known as a singer-songwriter, but while his lyrics often draw the most attention he is also a versatile guitarist with master finger-picking skills, which he showed off repeatedly on his collection of acoustic guitars of all sizes.

He offered up clues about some material, explaining that the new song Call Me Rose - which imagines Richard Nixon reincarnated as a woman - just appeared fully formed in his head one day, and that Five Fifty-One and Put it in Your Heart were New York songs, the latter his contribution to the post-9-11 material.

He humbly acknowledged the admiration of the crowd and wondered aloud what someone meant when they called him an incredible sight.

"Incredible sight? Look he's alive. I look in the mirror and say the same thing," he joked.

Photo: Phill Hossack


April 4, 2011
The Star Phoenix

Cockburn relives 40 years in one night

by Bill Roberston

Before people were going around talking about world music, Canada’s own Bruce Cockburn was playing world music, both here and around the world. From introspective folk to spiritual rock to the Latin American jungles, the war fields of the Middle East, and many genres of music in between, Cockburn has soaked it up. In his humble and unassuming way, he has brought it around to our cities and towns.

On Sunday in Saskatoon at TCU Place, Cockburn, along with Jenny Scheinman on violin and Gary Craig on percussion, presented a variety of songs in folk, rock, and world music styles covering his 31 albums and over 40 years in the business.

To a woefully small but highly appreciative audience of about 700, Cockburn played a number of songs in support of his latest album, Small Source of Comfort, as well as signpost tunes from his varied career.

He opened with the lovely Last Night of the Year, bouncing along as he played a big, green-fronted acoustic guitar through various  effects devices. In fact, as he went on to play Mango, with its Middle Eastern drone note feel, and then the ever popular Lovers in a Dangerous Time, Cockburn pretty much set his pattern of instrumentation, moving among acoustic guitars with different tunings and varying distortion devices.

He reached back to 1980’s Humans album for the foreboding and pounding Tokyo before finally breaking into the new album and its first track, The Iris of the World. Cockburn is easily one of Canada’s best guitarists, and the finger-picking he did on this new song, as just one example from the show, was both astonishing and inspiring.

Later in the evening he went on to do Boundless, with its array of big chimes leading the way, the comical and down home feel of Called Me Back, and a lament called Each One Lost about dead Canadian soldiers being shipped back from Afghanistan, all part of the new Small Source of Comfort album.

Along the way he did the slow and methodical Strange Waters, with great textures from the violin and another ripping guitar solo, the nice easy sway of Look How Far, and also Arrows of Light, with Bruce moving over to an electrified dulcimer and going for a Middle Eastern sound. Here the ever-inventive Craig switched from drums to a percussion stand and contributed more of his lively, syncopated beat. So as not to disappoint the crowd, Bruce did three of his most popular songs, If I Had a Rocket Launcher, Wondering Where the Lions Are, and If a Tree Falls.

With a three-person band, Cockburn has to stretch himself a little on the guitar to approximate the multi-instrument sound he gets on both Rocket Launcher and Tree, but he does it with aplomb, bent over those acoustic guitars, hammering that rhythm, and ripping those solos. The crowd was gleeful about each tune and helped him sing the chorus to Lions.

By press time Cockburn was getting a standing ovation for a rousing, spirited, and hugely varied concert, before returning to stage to let Scheinman’s violin lead the way on the instrumental Comets of Kandahar, also from the new album.

Indeed, Scheinman acted as opener for the evening, playing a 35-minute solo set, just her and a pair of violins. She lives in Brooklyn, but hails from Northern California, a place that informs her quirky and pleasing rural songs. She alternated between bowing the violin at her shoulder, in the conventional approach to a traditional fiddle tune, and holding it like a mandolin and picking individual notes as she sang about country people living in the isolation with the rain cascading down.

She played a long song from a dream, and then one of her unsavoury philosopher songs called Money for Wine. Later in Cockburn’s set she played another from the series about a pregnant young woman behind bars called The Littlest Prisoner.

Bruce Cockburn has achieved legendary status in this country, and his performance Sunday evening in Saskatoon, augmented by the work of his fellow players Scheinman and Craig, surely enhances his reputation as one of our finest songwriters and musicians.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix


April 2, 2011
The Edmonton Journal

Concert Review: Bruce Cockburn

by Roger Levesque

With guest: Jenny Scheinman

Where: Winspear Centre

When: Friday, April 1, 2011

EDMONTON — Bruce Cockburn was keeping things spare and simple when he brought his trio to the Winspear Centre on Friday.

With the benefit of good mixing, his studio recordings can get pretty complex and multi-layered, contrasting the quiet and something louder, but there was less of that in his live performance, part of a tour for the new album Small Source Of Comfort.

For the first few songs into the show — on older tunes like Last Night Of The World, Tokyo, and Lovers In A Dangerous Time — his strident rhythm guitar, Jenny Scheinman’s fluid violin and Gary Craig’s flat-out 4/4 drums hardly strayed from a steady rocking beat. That made it all the easier to catch the lyrics, and Cockburn let his songs speak for themselves for most of the concert, skipping much patter, taking his voice from a deep, almost monk-like drone to occasional passionate bellows.

The trio eventually began to tap their versatility and dynamic range on short, evocative instrumentals like Scheinman’s Albert (for Albert Ayler) and the gorgeous ambient-jazz piece Ancestors from the new album. She took off on a several impressive extended solos, too, bowing siren-like on the off-kilter urban ode Five Fifty-One, and taking lead vocal for one of her own songs. Craig came out from behind his set drums to add texture on the djembe, gongs, singing bowls and bells, and Cockburn even played a big rack of chimes with a foot-pedal as he shifted between his acoustic string instruments, from a deeper baritone guitar to a tiny axe smaller than a ukulele.

The Iris Of The World and the brash, nutty number for Richard Nixon, Call Me Rose, were among the other new tunes Cockburn chose to “inflict” (his word) on the attentive crowd of around 1,100. The tender lament for Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan, Each One Lost, was a later highlight, along with a longer, exotic piece that saw Cockburn plucking a small, flat string instrument for jazzy sitar-like sounds.

Soon after, familiar classics like Wondering Where The Lions Are and his hit for environmental awareness If A Tree Falls brought things to an upbeat finale, just before I ducked out for deadlines. Even if some songs could have used a greater depth of musical nuance I left feeling impressed all over again with Cockburn the songwriter (to be fair, the sound mix may have also played a role where I was seated near the stage).

Brooklyn-based Scheinman put in a fine opening set of her own songs with some help from Craig. It’s not by chance that she’s listed as both a violinist and a fiddler, because she straddles the spirit of country hoedowns and something closer to conservatory polish with a very pretty, plaintive voice to match. I can’t recall ever seeing anyone play so many tunes pizzicato style either, holding and plucking the violin like a small guitar.

The Cockburn show closed a busy week with the first three concerts in the new Winspear Presents series. None of them sold-out, but sizable crowds of 1,000 or more came out each time. Tuesday’s Acoustic Africa show was particularly memorable for the camaraderie between co-leaders Habib Koite, Afel Bocoum and Oliver Mtukudzi. Salif Keita and his crew sizzled Thursday despite some equipment problems and slow breaks between tunes. The series continues with David Lindley and Harry Manx April 9.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

Photo Jason Franson


April 1, 2011
The Huffington Post

Small Source Of Comfort: A Conversation with Bruce Cockburn
By Mike Ragogna

Mike Ragogna: Your new release, Small Source Of Comfort, puts your album count at over 30, right?

Bruce Cockburn: I believe the official count of this one is number 31.

MR: Nice. What went into recording Small Source Of Comfort that was different than the previous 30?

BC: Well, every album is the product of its own thing. This album is the product of its own time and place, in a way, and the product of the time between now and when I recorded the last studio album, which was about 5 or 6 years ago. There was a live album in that time that did have one new song on it, but all of these are songs that have been sort of building up inside that period of time. And I don't know if it's different from all of my other albums, but one thing I feel about it is it's more of a return to the "folkier" sound of the early to mid '70s, and if you categorize my albums, it's more like the '80s or '90s stuff that I've done.

MR: Let's go into "Iris Of The World," which says, "I've mostly dodged the dogmas of what life is all about." Have you?

BC: Well... I certainly try. (laughs) Well, it's a complicated thing to express in regular language outside of a song. I do feel a disinclination to be embroiled in dogma. I've flirted with it, certainly, in times. For instance, when I first started calling myself a Christian in the early '70s. I wasn't sure exactly what that meant at the time, so I went with the people who claimed they did, and that involved some dogma. But I got disenchanted with that pretty quickly, and my approach to Christianity remained somewhat outside the pale. At this point, I'm not even sure that I call myself a Christian anymore, but I don't take back any of what I said or experienced during that time. And my relationship with the divine and the cosmos is of paramount importance in my life. I think that shows up in my songs the '70s through the '80s.

MR: In "Call Me Rose," you reincarnate Richard Nixon. Why would anyone do such a thing?

BC: Lord, preserve us! (laughs) I really don't have a good explanation for how that song came into being. I woke up one morning with the song fully written in my head, just the lyrics; the music took a bit longer. But there was a whole set of words, and I thought "Where is this coming from?" I really don't have the answer. It did sort of happen when this previous Bush Administration was trying to rehabilitate the image of Richard Nixon. I specifically remember there being a campaign in the press, and you heard pundits making announcements to the effect that "Richard Nixon was the greatest President that the United States had ever had," and about how he was misunderstood. And what was odd was that after a month or so, it just stopped completely. What that suggested to me was that the American public just wasn't buying it at all, and that they just gave up spending money on it, which was wonderful, actually. So, I suppose, somewhere in the song, there is the notion of speculating about what the actual rehabilitation of Richard Nixon would look like -- not just his image in the press, but his "self," his soul, and there he is in the song being reincarnated as a single mom living in the projects.

MR: What fit justice.

BC: (laughs) It seems like justice! But he's still Richard Nixon because at the end of the song, he's saying "Maybe the memoir will sell..."

MR: And there's "Driving Away," which I can personally relate to. I think everyone has had the impulse to just jump into the car and drive away.

BC: That song was actually co-written with Annabelle Chvostek, who is a young Canadian songwriter who was formerly a member of a group called The Wailin' Jennys that some people in the States may be familiar with. A couple of years ago, she went out on her own and at one point got in touch with me and asked if I would be interested in writing some songs together. I thought, "Actually, yes! I would," because, first of all, I knew she was good, and because I was wondering what I was going to do next, so it seemed like a very timely invitation. When we got together, she had a lot of that song already written. Most of the words for the verses were already complete and some of the melody, so we worked together on it, and I came up with the chorus and some of the lines of the verses that needed expanding. We were also thinking, during the process, about what the calamity of fleeing was here, and we decided to let it remain non-specific and hang in the air because it felt more like life like that. It doesn't really matter. The point of that is that it's easier, more tempting, and more common for people confronted by things that they don't want to deal with to flee than it is to deal. So, really, that's where the song is coming from.

MR: Is Annabelle singing on the track with you?

BC: Yeah, that's Annabelle singing and playing a second guitar part. I'd have to look to see who you'd be hearing on which side of your speakers. (laughs) We basically performed it live as a duet in the studio.

MR: By the way, favorite title? "Lois On The Autobahn," nice.

BC: Well, you know, it's always hard to find a title to go with instrumental tracks because you don't have a handy bundle of words to pull a title out of. In this case, everyone that heard the song thought of driving, including me. It just had the feeling of being on some type of recreational drive because it's not hurried or intense, just kind of mellow. After my Mom passed over the summer and I did not yet have a title for the song, I thought, "You know what? That's my mom," and I put her on the Autobahn, even though I don't know if she was ever in Germany because I wanted the bold image of the Autobahn and the open road with no speed limits, a place where she could just sail on to the afterlife.

MR: Beautiful. And your humor is pretty right on with "Call Me Back."

BC: Well, if you read the liner notes with the cover of the album, what I say about this song is that everybody is just too damn busy these days and, really, that's what it is. I just had an experience, like we all have, of trying to reach someone and they just don't call you back. Then, you find out when you talk to them that they were just up to their ears in something and moving too fast trying to keep up with life, so they didn't call. At least that's the story we get. I've had that experience myself, and there have certainly been lots of times when I was the one who didn't call someone back. But it just seemed like such a typical experience of these times that it deserved a song, and so on this one occasion that it happened, I thought of this song. When I started writing it, I had to think about where to take it because it should be a humorous song since I didn't want to get too serious and deliver a sermon on not calling people back, so I just made everything progressively more absurd as the song goes along. In the song, I start thinking, "Maybe there's a reason he's not calling me back. Maybe he's got some problems or is going through a divorce or had a triple or quadruple bypass. Maybe his mother is in trouble with the law." So, that's kind of where it started, and obviously, with lyrics like that, I wanted music that was raw and ragtime-y, and that's how that song came to be.

MR: So, what's happening in your brain at "5:51" in the morning?

BC: The song is a real Brooklyn song. My girlfriend was living in Brooklyn for a few years and I was making frequent trips down there to visit. It compresses a couple of events down into one song because no one needs to hear an epic. But it's about the business of being awake at that hour seeing daylight come in and thinking, "Yeah, this is where a small source of comfort comes from." The fact that this sun came up is a small source of comfort, because the song talks about not taking those small things for granted anymore because of all the things that are falling apart. So, that's where the song starts, and there are references to things around the urban scene -- the smell of diesel or chemicals when no one is awake, and you know that someone is doing something they're not supposed to.

The business about the cops coming to your door in the middle of the night actually happened. We were just getting in from a movie around midnight, we were getting ready for bed, and my girlfriend was in the shower and I was standing around unclothed. All of a sudden, there was a massive pounding on the door and I wrapped something around myself, went to the door, and there were four New York cops standing there, all looking mean. Then they said, "We've had a complaint that there's some trouble here," and I was very confused for a moment, but they were actually quite nice once they realized that nothing was going on. As it turned out, one of the neighbors called them thinking they heard a break-in taking place or something when it was actually just us coming home. I never did get a straight answer about why my neighbor called.

MR: And are you still "Wondering Where the Lions Are?"

BC: (laughs) Uh, no, not in so many words. But the song is still around and I'm quite happy to own up to it.

MR: Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration for what, I suppose, was your first international hit, and can you describe for us what went on in that song?

BC: Well, yes, the song came about because I had dinner with a family member who was very deeply embroiled in the intergovernmental security establishment. He was a liaison between the Canadian security establishment and Washington during the Cold War era, and he was very knowledgeable about a lot of things that he couldn't talk about. At the time, China and Russia were coming to blows on the mutual border and he was saying that nobody was too worried about what Russia would do because Russia and the West spy on each other and there was so much information passively shared that neither one was going to surprise the other. China wasn't a part of that equation and no really one knew if China had nuclear weapons or not. Nobody knew  under what conditions they would potentially use them, and nobody knew what their choices would consist of. So, he basically said, in so many words, that we could wake up tomorrow and the world would be ending. And when I woke up the next morning, it wasn't. (laughs)

So, I ended up driving down a road somewhere on a bright sunny day, and the opening lines of the song came into my head. From there, it was just a matter of pulling together imagery that went with that. The second verse of the song talks about a dream I had in which the streets were full of lions walking around, but that was also in contrast to a dream that I had where lions were walking around but they weren't very threatening. They were pretty much maintaining their distance and they weren't attacking anyone. So, that's what got this whole thing going. Then, once you're wondering where the lions are, you're looking at the world saying, "This is all great, but where are those lions? And what are they going to do next?"

MR: (laughs) So you're really not wondering where they are.

BC: Not so much. I've done a lot of digging into my own psyche over the intervening years, and I'm not so ignorant about where those lions are. But I still think it's appropriate to be wondering.

MR: That song is just such a classic, and you seem to have many of them, all songs that I related to so much when I first heard them, especially "The Trouble With Normal," "If A Tree Falls," "If I Had A Rocket Launcher," and "Lovers In A Dangerous Time." That song, in particular, still gives me the chills because I think we're still in dangerous times considering global warming, etc. This song is about hanging on together to get through the hardships, right?

BC: Yeah. When I first got the idea for that song, my daughter was quite young and I began thinking, as I was watching her and her friends in the schoolyard, that these kids are growing up with a completely different worldview than the one that I grew up with. When I was young, we went through grade school with the threat of nuclear war and all of the stuff that went with that -- nuclear testing and so on. I remember having the nuclear air raid drills where we hid under our desks from the nuclear bombs. (laughs) But as a child, it never seemed very real, and yet, the children in my daughter's generation were not only experiencing the prospect of war, which never really goes away, but the degradation of the environment, AIDS, all kinds of dark things, and a different kind of atmosphere that seemed to be potentially heading in a more depressing era than what I grew up in. I began asking myself, "How do you love with so much fear being hurled at you all the time?" The song has a bit of a message of hope for that generation, but, of course, it applies in other ways as well. In the early '80s when the song came out, AIDS was looming very large on everyone's radar, so it may even be interpreted as being about that as well -- especially the last part of the song. I also enjoy the fact that people can relate to this song, or any song of mine, through their own experiences. I feel that that is not only completely legitimate, but inescapable. That song got quite a lot of attention, and I'm very happy that it did.

MR: What was also great, to me, was the fact that through your music, you were one of the voices of reason. When I look at a period like the second Bush's eight years and I realize that people like Keith Olbermann and Jon Stewart... well, all of you were, in a sense, "carrying the flag of sanity" during some very trying times. And in the '80s, you were -- and I believe you still are -- one of those voices of reason for many people. For instance, there was "Call It Democracy" and "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" whose lyrics, in particular, have strong sentiment. "If I had a rocket launcher, some son of a b***h would die..." I think that these songs showed the passion and anger that was present in the American public during the first Bush administration following eight years of Reaganism.

BC: I agree. A lot of people felt helpless. Even in Canada, we were looking at the effects of that administration. It was a difficult time because we weren't able to vote, so we were just left watching the U.S. with no ability to influence it in any real way, and with Americans, there just seemed to be this head-long momentum in a certain direction and any dissent from that was not welcomed.

MR: You're absolutely right. For instance, I remember a pro-choice rally being held at the Capitol where numbers in the media were being vastly under-reported, whereas the numbers for the anti-abortion protests -- that phrase later being "Luntzed" into "pro-life" -- seemed to be broadcast as having millions of attendees. It's amazing that a country that is so smart can seem to fall for the propaganda such as this, and, I suppose, we're still falling for it. I guess what happened during Hurricane Katrina woke us up from our Bush nightmare.

BC: Hurricane Katrina was a graphic representation at home of the way that calamity is dealt with in official circles, and it seemed to directly parallel what was going on in Baghdad. People who were affected weren't allowed to fix their own houses, and yet we had the same "money-makers" getting paid to go down there and do nothing, just like they were in Baghdad. So, people got to see -- though I'm not sure everyone made the connection -- that kind of behavior on the part of the higher powers. And I don't think that deception was confined to either Bush Administration--you will see that phenomenon rising and falling, but it never completely goes away. I believe the interests of corruption and greed are too well entrenched. But, of course, the more popular resistance there is to it, the more it has to happen.

MR: Yeah, and one of my favorite things that Keith Olbermann did was draw the connection between those who were the loudest resisters to health care reform and the monetary contributions they were getting from the industry.

BC: Absolutely. It's not surprising, really. What is more surprising is the fact that we let it happen. It's a part of human nature to feather your own nest and do as well as you can in the process. But there are supposed to be state institutions that prevent us from falling headlong into that, and that's where things tend to come apart -- and lack of media coverage and scrutiny plays into the hands of those motivated people.

MR: I agree. It's funny, we all know to "follow the buck" to discover the truth, and yet no one really wants to.

BC: Unless they think they can get a hold of it. (laughs)

MR: (laughs) Exactly. Bruce, what's happening in the news right now that has your attention?

BC: Well, you know, I'm watching what's going on in the Middle East with interest and apprehension like everyone else. It may shake down to something like the status quo or it may represent real change of some kind. It does represent a certain instability that's disturbing because of the amount of worldwide attention and energetic investment in that region because of oil and so on. The Islamic world, which of course extends much further than the countries that we see in turmoil at the moment, is looking very hard at those things. To the extent that the Islamist (extremists) are likely to gain ground through this kind of stuff... to that extent, we should be worried. I don't think that they represent interests that we are going to like very much, and they have their counterpart in the so-called American Christian right. They really are, I believe, cut from the same cloth, they're just operating in a different fashion. But if you gave them half a chance, they would be doing what the Taliban did in Afghanistan or the equivalent. So, the more that kind of extremism comes to influence the course things, the more precarious the freedoms that we love are, and that bothers me. I'm pretty attached to women being equal with me and to my freedom of speech and movement, and the more that the other crap goes on, the more that freedom is encroached upon. Even without the fanatics coming into ascendancy, it's just my way of reaction. As we saw after 9/11, everything tightened down, and all of a sudden, there was this institution called Homeland Security that is in charge of everything. So far, the effects of that are pretty benign, but I don't think it's a given that it'll stay benign.

MR: And there was a time that it wasn't so benign, especially when we were water boarding.

BC: Exactly. There's that dark side of it that you don't want to get any bigger. And the more we're confronted with extremism, the more we'll be confronted with extremism on our side of the fence as well, and it's worrisome. But you never really know how these things are going to shake down, so it's not appropriate to be hopeless.

MR: Do you have any advice for new artists?

BC: (laughs) Well, not very meaningful advice because the whole scene is so different now than when I started. But one thing I will say is that if you have a sense of what you want your art to be, stick to it. Don't let other people tell you that it's not acceptable or not appropriate or not the way to get ahead. Go with your gut on that stuff.

The other piece of advice would be to hang on to your publishing if you're a songwriter. Don't give it away. Although, as I said everything is in such a different state that this may not be as widespread, historically, there have been record companies who have asked you to give up your publishing in exchange for a record contract. Personally, I'm not sorry to see some of the bigger record companies go down because they have been screwing people for so long that they had it coming. The problem is that the things that are taking them down are also making it difficult for the rest of us. But as far as artists go, I would encourage them to hang on to their songs -- keep owning them because that gives you some creative control over what happens, and it also may be a potential source of income down the road. If you get lucky, someone high-profile may record your songs or you may become high profile enough yourself to generate royalties. Then it's more meaningful.

MR: So, you've had songs in quite a few movies, and you have been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame where all sorts of people paid tribute to you. How does it feel to be one of the major veteran singer-songwriters of Canada and to look back at your career and catalog? Sorry for using the word "veteran" because it implies some sort of age or...

BC: ... it's alright to imply age when it's actually there. (laughs) Yeah, I'm a legend in my own mind. (laughs) Well, I don't do this very often, but if I look back at my career, it's a surprise to me every time because I didn't expect anything when I started out and then all this stuff happened and it's pretty great. I can also see that having an excellent manager was a large part of that success -- having someone that can operate in the strategic aspect for all these years. But I truly feel that I have been lucky and blessed with the ability to keep going when a lot of people have not, and I'm very grateful for that.

MR: Well, I wish you even further success because it's so important artists like you, especially artists who are as socially conscious as you, keep reminding us through your music about what is going on around us.

BC: (laughs) Well, as long as I can I will, I guess. There's nothing else that's likely to happen.

MR: Thanks for being as candid as you were.

BC: Thank you for being interested.

1. The Iris Of The World
2. Call Me Rose
3. Bohemian
4. Radiance
5. Five Fifty-One
6. Driving Away
7. Lois On The Autobahn
8. Boundless
9. Called Me Back
10. Comets Of Kandahar
11. Each One Lost
12. Parnassus And Fog
13. Ancestors
14. Gifts

Transcribed by Evan Martin


March 30, 2011
Stereo Subversion

The always intimate Bruce Cockburn remains organic yet committed to his craft
by Dan MacIntosh

The fact that Bruce Cockburn holds a cult following in the United States is only a small source of comfort. If there were any justice in the music business, he’d be as famous as that other Bruce from Jersey. Yet year after year, Cockburn turns out sometimes beautiful, other times angry, and always highly personalized collections of songs. Listening to his albums is like reading a poet’s intimate journal, as Cockburn oftentimes documents his travels to war-torn regions of the world to share his first-hand impressions of what is really going on.

Cockburn’s latest album, Small Source of Comfort, reveals this veteran folk singer’s still-fertile imagination. One song titled “Call Me Rose” imagines Richard Nixon as a woman of all things, for instance, while “Each One Lost” finds Cockburn mourning the mounting life losses in Afghanistan.

Stereo Subversion caught up with Cockburn after a bad day. His vehicle had broken down while he traveled across the United States. Yet you’d never even know anything had gone wrong while talking to him. Cockburn is soft spoken, polite, and always engaging. From a conversation that ranged from his brief brush with Hollywood, to his love of the open road, there was never a dull moment in this conversation.

Stereo Subversion: The first thing I noticed about your new album, Small Source of Comfort, was that there are many instrumentals on it. Would you say you’re in kind of a compositional zone now?

Bruce Cockburn: I don’t think we can make any grand inference from the fact that there’s the five instrumental pieces. I think they just worked out that way, and they seemed to flow together with the songs well, so we kept them all in. What’ll happen next? I have no idea. Perhaps I’ve written all the words I’m gonna write. I don’t really make deliberate plans about that kind of thing. It’s what happens. In this case, what happened was I got eight songs and then one old one pulled out of the closet and the five instrumental pieces.

SSv: When you compose an instrumental, is that just a song that words never came to, or do you intentionally create instrumentals?

Bruce: My songwriting goes in the opposite direction to that of many songwriters that I’ve compared notes with. I write the words first then I look for music to fit those words. In a way, I’ve compared it elsewhere to kind of scoring a film where you have images and maybe characters or bit of a story or something that you need to support, but you don’t want music to interfere with it. So it’s really lyric driven.

But, in the case of instrumental pieces, obviously that isn’t really how it works so they just come out of the air. They come out of fooling around with the guitar. While practicing or just exploring on the guitar and I’ll stumble on something that seems like it should become part of a piece, and then I’ll look for more things to go with it and eventually there’s a piece.

SSv: It makes me feel good to hear you say that you practice because I’m so impressed with your guitar skills. I fool around on the guitar, but I certainly can’t do anything like you can. But to hear that you practice, that gives me encouragement.

Bruce: You know what, use it or lose it. The older you get, the more true that is. There are so many skills that, if you want to keep them, you have to use them. You’ve got to practice.

SSv: I was reading the notes to the album about the song “Bohemian 3-Step” where you said you were creating a score for a major Hollywood film–

Bruce: Jenny Scheinman plays violin all over the record, which I’m really happy I got to know over the last few years in Brooklyn. We had done a bit of playing together. When she’s not touring with other people — because she hasn’t toured with me, although she will be shortly — she’s got a regular weekly gig she’s does at a tiny club in Brooklyn. And one night I was walking by there — and this is kind of how I got to hear her — I’d heard her play with Bill Frisell and then I started paying attention until one day we walked by the club and there was a sandwich board outside with her name on it, so we went in and heard this amazing performance.

One thing led to another and we ended up getting to know each other and she invited me to come and do a couple of those gigs with her, as kind a dual gig where we would do half my stuff, and half her stuff. And we did that, and it was really fun. And at one of those [shows], a music director for this big Hollywood film, which I’m not really supposed to name, I don’t think. I think there was an agreement to that effect. But the music director for the film happened to be in the audience. Or actually he didn’t happen to; he came to hear Jenny because he thought that her music might suit the film.

When he heard what we were doing together it made him think that there was a strong possibility for the pair of us. So he approached us about making a demo, which the film company paid for. Whatever. But it wasn’t a case of competing against other people for the gig. It was more a case of making up a demo so the director of the film could hear what it would be like. He was not sure where he wanted to go with, with the music, and whether he wanted to go in a more scaled down direction or with a big orchestral score.

In the end, he decided to go with the big orchestral score. Meanwhile, we had done this demo and what that meant is that we spent a week hanging out together and co-writing a bunch of pieces and then learning them and then recording them. And it was really fun doing that, too. Some of those pieces…man, I think there’s some viable music that we may end up doing something with some day, but how it relates to the album is that a couple of the pieces on the album were written very much at the influence of working with Jenny, “Bohemian 3-Step,” particularly. But also “Lois on the Autobahn” is a product of that. But I expect that if I continue to be acquainted with her for long enough, we will have some affect on each other’s stuff

SSv: Maybe you could become the next Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli.

Bruce: That would be weird. I don’t know if that’s in the cards, but Jenny’s really worth checking out. She’s going to be the opening act on the tour, as well as playing violin with me in a tiny three-piece band.

SSv: Oh wow! That should be fun for you.

Bruce: I think so, yeah.

SSv: The last time I saw you, maybe you remember the gig at the Santa Monica Pier.

Bruce: That was the festival that didn’t quite work. It was really good musically, but I don’t think very many people came to it. Yeah, it was a good gig.

SSv: I think you were just by yourself…

Bruce: …yes, on that occasion.

SSv: You know, when you mentioned the Hollywood film, and then I looked on the album credits that you thanked Ang Lee, am I jumping to a conclusion that those two are associated, or is Ang Lee just a friend of yours?

Bruce: You might be jumping to a correct conclusion, but I don’t think I can really confirm or deny it.

SSv: Okay. I’m not going to press you on it.

Bruce: They were very particular about that.

SSv: We’ll just let readers draw their own conclusions and let it be that. I also noticed in the notes to the new album that a lot of your ideas come from driving. Do you like driving, and what is it about driving that kind of helps to inspire music?

Bruce: There’s a lot of visual imagery in the songs that are definitely the product of long distance driving. We were just spending a lot of time on the highway. In my case, I do have a bit of a bug for driving; especially in the West where the spaces are big and the speed limits are high and there’s incredible what – to me – is my favorite landscape, which is kind of that mountainous desert stuff that you drive across when you go through Wyoming and Utah and Nevada. I love that.

So any chance I get to drive across it, I welcome. I like the meditative aspect of driving through those conditions where there’s a lot of space and you’re not really – you obviously have to be paying attention to what you’re doing – but you aren’t dealing with imminent crisis moment by moment, like you are when you’re driving in Eastern traffic.

So there’s a lot of time to just feel the landscape, feel the kind of timelessness of sitting in that landscape. It doesn’t work so well when you’re in a hurry because you’re aware of how long it’s taking to get to the next whatever. But where there’s not a time issue, even though you’re probably going at the same pace, you don’t have that hanging over you, so that’s why it feels really good. I’ve had that itch since I was young.March 30, 2011
Stereo Subversion

The always intimate Bruce Cockburn remains organic yet committed to his craft
by Dan MacIntosh

The fact that Bruce Cockburn holds a cult following in the United States is only a small source of comfort. If there were any justice in the music business, he’d be as famous as that other Bruce from Jersey. Yet year after year, Cockburn turns out sometimes beautiful, other times angry, and always highly personalized collections of songs. Listening to his albums is like reading a poet’s intimate journal, as Cockburn oftentimes documents his travels to war-torn regions of the world to share his first-hand impressions of what is really going on.

Cockburn’s latest album, Small Source of Comfort, reveals this veteran folk singer’s still-fertile imagination. One song titled “Call Me Rose” imagines Richard Nixon as a woman of all things, for instance, while “Each One Lost” finds Cockburn mourning the mounting life losses in Afghanistan.

Stereo Subversion caught up with Cockburn after a bad day. His vehicle had broken down while he traveled across the United States. Yet you’d never even know anything had gone wrong while talking to him. Cockburn is soft spoken, polite, and always engaging. From a conversation that ranged from his brief brush with Hollywood, to his love of the open road, there was never a dull moment in this conversation.

Stereo Subversion: The first thing I noticed about your new album, Small Source of Comfort, was that there are many instrumentals on it. Would you say you’re in kind of a compositional zone now?

Bruce Cockburn: I don’t think we can make any grand inference from the fact that there’s the five instrumental pieces. I think they just worked out that way, and they seemed to flow together with the songs well, so we kept them all in. What’ll happen next? I have no idea. Perhaps I’ve written all the words I’m gonna write. I don’t really make deliberate plans about that kind of thing. It’s what happens. In this case, what happened was I got eight songs and then one old one pulled out of the closet and the five instrumental pieces.

SSv: When you compose an instrumental, is that just a song that words never came to, or do you intentionally create instrumentals?

Bruce: My songwriting goes in the opposite direction to that of many songwriters that I’ve compared notes with. I write the words first then I look for music to fit those words. In a way, I’ve compared it elsewhere to kind of scoring a film where you have images and maybe characters or bit of a story or something that you need to support, but you don’t want music to interfere with it. So it’s really lyric driven.

But, in the case of instrumental pieces, obviously that isn’t really how it works so they just come out of the air. They come out of fooling around with the guitar. While practicing or just exploring on the guitar and I’ll stumble on something that seems like it should become part of a piece, and then I’ll look for more things to go with it and eventually there’s a piece.

SSv: It makes me feel good to hear you say that you practice because I’m so impressed with your guitar skills. I fool around on the guitar, but I certainly can’t do anything like you can. But to hear that you practice, that gives me encouragement.

Bruce: You know what, use it or lose it. The older you get, the more true that is. There are so many skills that, if you want to keep them, you have to use them. You’ve got to practice.

SSv: I was reading the notes to the album about the song “Bohemian 3-Step” where you said you were creating a score for a major Hollywood film–

Bruce: Jenny Scheinman plays violin all over the record, which I’m really happy I got to know over the last few years in Brooklyn. We had done a bit of playing together. When she’s not touring with other people — because she hasn’t toured with me, although she will be shortly — she’s got a regular weekly gig she’s does at a tiny club in Brooklyn. And one night I was walking by there — and this is kind of how I got to hear her — I’d heard her play with Bill Frisell and then I started paying attention until one day we walked by the club and there was a sandwich board outside with her name on it, so we went in and heard this amazing performance.

One thing led to another and we ended up getting to know each other and she invited me to come and do a couple of those gigs with her, as kind a dual gig where we would do half my stuff, and half her stuff. And we did that, and it was really fun. And at one of those [shows], a music director for this big Hollywood film, which I’m not really supposed to name, I don’t think. I think there was an agreement to that effect. But the music director for the film happened to be in the audience. Or actually he didn’t happen to; he came to hear Jenny because he thought that her music might suit the film.

When he heard what we were doing together it made him think that there was a strong possibility for the pair of us. So he approached us about making a demo, which the film company paid for. Whatever. But it wasn’t a case of competing against other people for the gig. It was more a case of making up a demo so the director of the film could hear what it would be like. He was not sure where he wanted to go with, with the music, and whether he wanted to go in a more scaled down direction or with a big orchestral score.

In the end, he decided to go with the big orchestral score. Meanwhile, we had done this demo and what that meant is that we spent a week hanging out together and co-writing a bunch of pieces and then learning them and then recording them. And it was really fun doing that, too. Some of those pieces…man, I think there’s some viable music that we may end up doing something with some day, but how it relates to the album is that a couple of the pieces on the album were written very much at the influence of working with Jenny, “Bohemian 3-Step,” particularly. But also “Lois on the Autobahn” is a product of that. But I expect that if I continue to be acquainted with her for long enough, we will have some affect on each other’s stuff

SSv: Maybe you could become the next Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli.

Bruce: That would be weird. I don’t know if that’s in the cards, but Jenny’s really worth checking out. She’s going to be the opening act on the tour, as well as playing violin with me in a tiny three-piece band.

SSv: Oh wow! That should be fun for you.

Bruce: I think so, yeah.

SSv: The last time I saw you, maybe you remember the gig at the Santa Monica Pier.

Bruce: That was the festival that didn’t quite work. It was really good musically, but I don’t think very many people came to it. Yeah, it was a good gig.

SSv: I think you were just by yourself…

Bruce: …yes, on that occasion.

SSv: You know, when you mentioned the Hollywood film, and then I looked on the album credits that you thanked Ang Lee, am I jumping to a conclusion that those two are associated, or is Ang Lee just a friend of yours?

Bruce: You might be jumping to a correct conclusion, but I don’t think I can really confirm or deny it.

SSv: Okay. I’m not going to press you on it.

Bruce: They were very particular about that.

SSv: We’ll just let readers draw their own conclusions and let it be that. I also noticed in the notes to the new album that a lot of your ideas come from driving. Do you like driving, and what is it about driving that kind of helps to inspire music?

Bruce: There’s a lot of visual imagery in the songs that are definitely the product of long distance driving. We were just spending a lot of time on the highway. In my case, I do have a bit of a bug for driving; especially in the West where the spaces are big and the speed limits are high and there’s incredible what – to me – is my favorite landscape, which is kind of that mountainous desert stuff that you drive across when you go through Wyoming and Utah and Nevada. I love that.

So any chance I get to drive across it, I welcome. I like the meditative aspect of driving through those conditions where there’s a lot of space and you’re not really – you obviously have to be paying attention to what you’re doing – but you aren’t dealing with imminent crisis moment by moment, like you are when you’re driving in Eastern traffic.

So there’s a lot of time to just feel the landscape, feel the kind of timelessness of sitting in that landscape. It doesn’t work so well when you’re in a hurry because you’re aware of how long it’s taking to get to the next whatever. But where there’s not a time issue, even though you’re probably going at the same pace, you don’t have that hanging over you, so that’s why it feels really good. I’ve had that itch since I was young.


March 30, 2011
The Edmonton Journal

Bruce Cockburn brings new album to Edmonton’s Winspear Centre
By Roger Levesque

EDMONTON - In the opening notes to Small Source Of Comfort, his first new studio album in six years, Bruce Cockburn explains that he set out to do something different, something “electric and noisy.”

But that never happened.

Apparently, he never found the element of isolation he needed. Personal priorities — spending time with his American-based girlfriend, and his restless spirit— interceded.

“It’s important to be able to move with the changes,” he notes. “All of life is like that. What are you gonna do? Sit around and cry or work with what you’ve got?”

So fans will just have to settle for another of the beautifully crafted, largely acoustic sets of socially and politically astute songwriting that they have come to know and love from the Canadian folk-rock icon. At 65, he has more than 30 albums to his name and enough awards and honours to fill a garage, including an Order of Canada distinction.

Despite the serious look of his publicity photos, Cockburn turns out to be a more easygoing conversationalist that you might expect. He admits he’s more of “an urban person” despite the artistic need for isolation, and he values “the feeling of openness and vulnerability” that comes out of travelling.

“I am someone who gets bored easily, particularly with myself. I’m restless, and creatively it’s sort of necessary to keep experiencing stimuli that trigger your emotional responses. That’s how your creative process gets fired up.”

On the phone from his home outside Kingston, Ont., he’s taking a break from rehearsals with the rest of his touring trio (American violinist Jenny Scheinman, Toronto percussionist Gary Craig). They’re also on the new album, produced by Colin Linden with a few other musicians and lots of Cockburn’s own gorgeous guitar.

Small Source Of Comfort offers much in the way of poetic imagery and insight, right from the opening hooks on The Iris Of The World. But it also has a few quirks.

Case in point, Call Me Rose, a song in the first person about former U.S. President Richard Nixon being reincarnated as a single mom with two kids, living in the slums. It’s some of the oddest evidence yet that Cockburn has a sense of humour.

“It’s the weirdest thing. I pay a lot of attention to my dreams but I didn’t dream that song. I woke up and it was conscious in my head like it had been dictated to me. I’m not suggesting that I was the victim of an alien abduction or anything, but it came from somewhere in my brain that I don’t normally have access to when I’m awake. All I can relate it to is that the (George W.) Bush administration had a little campaign to try to rehabilitate the image of Richard Nixon. It’s about power and redemption, I guess.”

So if Cockburn can envision Nixon reborn as a poor woman named Rose, is there any chance that he himself might reincarnate, perhaps as a politician?

“I guess, if I have to pay for my sins, then I might have to come back that way.”

Cockburn can’t recall that politics was a frequent topic of dinnertime conversation when he was a kid growing up in Ottawa, though his parents did instil a certain awareness of civic responsibilities and the importance of voting.

“That set the stage, but my personal involvement with politics really stems from starting to travel and meeting people where politics really did matter — native people, for instance, or going to Italy in the 1970s when the Red Brigades were active. There was a sense of chaos all over that was very different from the relatively bland liberal atmosphere that I had grown up in.”

After Cockburn’s first recording came out in 1970, it was only a matter of time before such experiences would have an effect on his songwriting.

“It opened my eyes to the idea that the political world was as real as the rest of life and it expanded the horizons of responsibility that I felt already. Without getting pompous, I think that responsibility is kind of central to art in general. The job of an artist is to tell the truth as you understand it. It’s also perfectly permissible to make fluffy entertainment if that’s what you want to do.”

If any one song gave him a reputation as a political activist it was the 1984 hit single If I Had A Rocket Launcher, inspired by meeting Guatemalan refugees in war-torn Central America. In 2009, he travelled to Afghanistan, to visit his brother Capt. John Cockburn, a doctor serving in the war zone, and to entertain the troops. The trip inspired two memorable tracks on the new album, including an instrumental called The Comets Of Kandahar. Another song, Each One Lost, was written after he witnessed a ramp ceremony, the Canadian Force’s way of saying goodbye to two fallen soldiers.

“In a certain way, they exhibited that same subdued, very dignified response to pain that I had first witnessed in the Guatemalan refugees years ago. I guess maybe I’m a sucker for that because it really affected me as strongly as being with those refugees did. Maybe it’s because they were young Canadians. In some ways, I felt like they were my kids, but it made honouring them on that occasion even more poignant.”

On a more directly personal note, Cockburn’s mother died last August, and another instrumental Lois On The Autobahn imagines her driving off into the afterlife.

Has witnessing death at home or abroad left him more reflective?

“You know from the get-go that you’re gonna die. I don’t look forward to it but I think I’ve written my own epitaph a whole bunch of times in my songs.”

Cockburn can take his own small source of comfort from a legacy of songs that provokes people to hum along and to think, but he has no thoughts of retiring. After all, there are still unexplored ambitions, his “noisy” album, and maybe an album of covers.

“I don’t take things for granted but it’s worked out for me so far.”


March 2011
Bruce Cockburn contributions as Guest Editor for Magnet Magazine

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: Jenny Scheinman

Cockburn: Jenny Scheinman has performed and recorded with a legion of fine artists from Bill Frisell and Ani DiFranco to Lucinda Williams and Rodney Crowell. You may know her from this, but if you haven’t checked out her own CDs, you’re missing something great! As a jazzoid composer and player, Jenny has developed an eclectic style both fresh and varied. She performs her pieces with a range of ensembles, which feature ace musicianship from the likes of Todd Sycafoose, Myra Melford, Kenny Wollesen, Nels Cline and others.

Then there’s the songwriting. I’m not exactly clear on the genre boundaries involved, but with violin and mandolin accompaniment, Jenny has these songs with clever, thoughtful, sometimes humorous lyrics that sound to me like a kind of bent California neo-bluegrass. Full of good energy.

Aside from simply wanting to bring her to your attention, I have a certain stake in this. Jenny Scheinman is featured as a guest on my new CD and is also touring with me starting as both opening act and as part of my tiny-but-perfect band.

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: Death

Cockburn: The teenage son of a friend of mine was killed recently in a snowmobile accident. He was a popular kid—how much so his mother learned when it seemed like the whole town turned up to mourn his passing.

This inescapable transition from a living state to whatever awaits us is something we prefer to ignore much of the time, although our fascination with death is obvious from the constant stream of stories we are constantly telling ourselves. There are situations where it will be seen and felt. There are places where human death becomes another element in the landscape, along with roads and trees and air. In our own context, thankfully, death feels more like an occasion. I guess it’s safe to say it is always a shock to the deceased. I suspect (and fervently hope) that that shock is short-lived. To the survivors, the shock lasts a long time. In the case of a lost loved one, lifelong. I think I’ve seen that excruciating sense of loss be transmuted into a kind of interior altar where the lost one is honored.

We are this brief flare of energy sparked by birth and then snuffed out. It seems especially so when someone young goes down. Part of the energy goes on to what is next. Part of it remains as the memories of us held by those who knew us. When my mother died this past summer, she was just short of her 89th birthday. She had lived as much as circumstance and temperament permitted. She fought off the effects of cancer and its treatment for a long time. She curled and played tennis up to the last year of her life. She too was more popular than we had realized. At her visitation, a large number of her contemporaries showed up, most of them unknown to me, full of love and appreciation for her. That sad event became a celebration, even a joyous one, of mom and her life.

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: God

Cockburn: In all cultures, all times, there is in people a hunger for the divine. There is a feeling that each of us is part of something universal. That feeling is usually institutionalized into religion, which often replaces the divine with the counterfeit sense of being one instead with the tribe. The divine, though, means different things to different people. For some, it’s the planet. For some, it’s the projected psyche split into parts with the faces of gods, or science.

I believe in God. I believe there is a divine presence, an energy, that is the fabric of everything. Sometimes we can feel this presence as love. My relationship with God is very personal. If I still my internal fussing and pride, I might be able to discern what God wants for me, but I don’t think I’ll ever hear more than a suggestion of what is wanted for anyone else. You for instance. I might make that suggestion out loud, but if you don’t agree or don’t accept it, my part ends there. Anybody who says they know what God wants for you is deluded.

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: "Dexter"

Cockburn: For a while, Battlestar Galactica and Dexter were running neck-and-neck as my favorite TV shows, but Dexter wins by default as the last man standing. It seems to me everybody with an imagination has, or has had, a secret inner life. I certainly have. All kinds of things happen in my imagination. Some are terrible, not in a Dexter way, but comparable. I don’t kill anybody, but at times my mind fills with horrible images.

That’s not as significant, though, as the fact of not being able (or willing) to share those thoughts and feelings. Not sharing means having secrets. When a young person develops the habit of keeping secrets (e.g. from parents, teachers, often for good reasons), it can be hard to break out of it later. You create strategies for avoiding the exposure of those secrets, and then you’re—presto—a bit like Dexter.

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: Water, Part 2

Cockburn: There was only one public latrine in the village. It was at the foot of the valley, below the ritually placed Dogon houses, where the spring’s ability to generate green vegetation came to an end at the dry plain of the Sahara. The structure was built up above ground: a mound of red earth 10 feet high shaped like a protruding navel. Finding myself in need of it, I went through the entrance to discover that I had to climb a short stair. This put me on a platform surrounded by an uneven, three-foot wall. As I squatted there with my head sticking up above the parapet, I felt extremely conspicuous. I wondered if I’d have to greet passersby from my elevated position, but the one or two women I could see hoeing in their garden ignored me.

I had a fine view of the surroundings. On one side, at my back, the looming 2,000-foot ramparts of the Bandiagara Escarpment. On the other, sand, thorns, the skeletons of dead baobab trees. Right where the patchwork of little-tilled fields hit the sand was a well spout from which water dribbled into a concrete trough. Nearby, a rectangle of chain-link fence stood next to a small house. While I watched, a wide column of dust approached that resolved itself into into a robed Peul herdsman driving a bleating, clanking crowd of sheep and goats. The animals rushed to the trough by the well, excited to be able to drink.

Startlingly blue sky. Red dust on the wind. This biblical scene of herder and flock. And if the shiny chain-link fence were not anomalous enough, inside it was a large array of solar panels, gleaming a darker blue.

I found out later that a former government had bought into the technology and installed a solar-powered well pump near each of the Dogon villages, dotting the escarpment. No ongoing tech support was given, so the systems broke down. Goats smashed the solar panels. This was the only one still working. The villagers had appointed a man to be trained in well maintenance. The little house was his, and he was charged with keeping everything running. When the well keeper grew too old, he passed on his knowledge to an apprentice in the traditional fashion.

For a fee of a few cents a year, the nomadic herders of the plain could water their livestock here. Back in the day, the Dogon and the Peul were mortal enemies, in the manner of farmers vs. herders the world over. They were enemies until France colonized Mali with cannons and forced peace on them 100 years ago. Now they coexist as partners facing ever-deepening desertification of the environment in which both must live.

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: Knives

Cockburn: When I was little, I wouldn’t go to sleep without my rubber knife hidden under my pillow. The sinister darkness under the bed could produce any number of monsters while I slept. The scary things under the bed moved to deeper and subtler places with the passage of time, but the love of a good knife only grew.

As a confirmed packrat, I end up with small-to-modest collections of things I like: bags and backpacks, jackets, comic books, DVDs U.S. quarters with states on them. And knives. Or, let’s say, edged implements. Some of them are agricultural in intent (e.g. old sickles). Some are art pieces, some utilitarian, some historical or exotic. The unifying factor is the beauty of form and function embodied in things with blades. There are a few made by high-end cutlers such as Jerry Fisk, Wolf Loerchner or Brian Lyttle. Others are by lesser-known or up-and-coming makers. Some are traditional to various places: a delicate dagger from tango-era Buenos Aires designed to be worn in a woman’s garter, the one from Papua New Guinea crudely fashioned from the leg bone of a  cassowary, the 150-year-old Chinese executioner’s sword. Some are purely practical camping or food-prep knives by companies like Benchmade and Spyderco. Being left-handed, I’m always on the lookout for folding knives oriented that way.

Sometimes a knife designed for one thing might get used for another; a combat knife doing duty in the kitchen, for instance. Actually, nearly all the knives get a bit of kitchen use, so they’re kept sharp. I have issues around my kitchen knives, insisting that they be treated with respect by any who use them. I seem to have impressed this so heavily on my daughter’s boyfriend that when he comes to visit, he brings his own knives.

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: Jacques Tardi

Cockburn: Back in the ’70s, I became interested in comics again. As a kid, I loved Tarzan and bought every issue for several years running. I lost interest in my teens, but it was reawakened when I discovered the French and Belgian bandes dessinées. These were comics with far better production values and a more adult orientation: sci-fi or fantasy stories, gritty noir detective tales, perverted humor. There was a whole world waiting to be savored in the union of story and dialogue with really good graphic art of many styles. Moebius, Hugo Pratt, Bilal & Christin and Jacques Tardi in particular lit up my imagination.

Over the years, some of the work of these artists has appeared in English, usually as a cheaper production and often with really bad translations. One of my favorites was Tardi’s series about a female private detective in fin-de-siecle Paris named Adèle Blanc-Sec. Fantagraphics has now released some of the Adèle stories in a form worthy of the original editions. They’ve put out other Tardi titles as well. This is exciting, even if I have them at home in French. It’s fun to think of a whole new audience discovering the work of such a great graphic novelist!

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: Guitars

Cockburn: Why do I play guitar, as opposed to drums or keyboard or bagpipes? Because of Elvis Presley (actually Scotty Moore, who played with Elvis, though I didn’t know his name until later) and Buddy Holly. And because my grandmother happened to have one in her attic. When that beat-up, low-rent instrument came into my hands at the age of 14, I knew it would become a key component of my life. When I showed so much interest in it, my parents got me a better one. It became a refuge from the horrors of adolescence—a step into the world of cool for a nerdy kid with a crappy self-image. I studied other instruments—clarinet, trumpet, a bit of cello—but it was the guitar that got into the core of me and clung there long after delusions of Elvis-hood had given way to the notion of becoming a jazz musician, then a rocker, then a singer/songwriter.

I own several guitars. The ones with which I’m most closely associated were made by Linda Manzer of Toronto, a fine luthier and a great friend. Back in the ‘80s, when synthesizers were becoming a fashion necessity on every record, another friend, Jonathan Goldsmith, archly declared to me that the guitar was dead and had no future. Jonathan is a top-notch composer and pianist. Hah. Guess who was wrong!

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: Sex In Amsterdam

Cockburn: So there we are, standing on the cobblestones, looking at a building with a big pink elephant sign: LIVE SEX. My companion says, “Let’s go in!” Curiosity rules! We trade some cash for a hand stamp with a friendly fellow who informs us that the show is 90 minutes long and we’ll see “all positions.” Up the dark stairs and through a curtain. We’re in a smallish room with 100 or so theatre seats facing a well-lit stage on which stands a heart-shaped bed draped in red silk-like material.

The show is in three “acts,” with intermissions featuring a sort of comedy striptease in which an attractive young woman takes off part of her already-skimpy costume and invites three tittering college boys up to perform with her. One of them has to eat a banana from between her legs? Breasts? Funny, I can’t remember …

In each of the main acts, a woman wearing a thong comes onstage, which is now a bedroom. She appears to be idle, perhaps pining for someone or something. A stocky, swarthy and hirsute man enters stage right. He too wears a thong, with rather more of a bulge. They kiss in a perfunctory way, like an old married couple. Then, as they recline onto the bed, she removes his thong and goes down on him. The red-draped, heart-shaped bed begins to slowly revolve. Chill disco music plays. There is caressing and a display of something like tenderness. The man enters the woman from one of several possible directions. This is followed by rhythmic movements. Change angle of approach. Further rhythmic activity. After all the positions have been tried, they stop. There is no evidence of a climax, although the woman tosses her head and makes moaning noises. The bed ceases to revolve. We all applaud as the couple holds hands and takes a bow.

Each act involves a different couple. Each couple has its particular routine. All is carried out in a sedate, deliberate manner, which is so mechanistic as to seem quite innocent. We’re like aliens watching a display of the mating practices of earthlings. Not in the least sexy, but interesting.

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: Alcohol

Cockburn: I like drinking wine. I’m currently trying to train myself to like pinot noir. I’ve never cared much for it, but so many of my friends and acquaintances do that I feel like I ought to understand what all the fuss is about. Pinot noir also contains the largest proportion among wines of resveratrol, the antioxidant that makes wine so good for you. I’ve now had a few that have gone down well, though some are too light and watery for my taste. Gimme the big wines, zin and merlot and amarone! Nothing brightens a day like well-chosen booze.

In Bolivia recently, my daughter and I were invited to help a number of Quechua villagers with their planting. Though it sounds like  work, it was actually a social invitation. The custom is that all who work get fed and plied with chicha, a mildly alcoholic brew of corn, questionable water and, since everyone drinks from the same vessel, saliva. We arrived a bit late. Lunch was served, and we shared in it. A farmer mimed to me that if I didn’t do some work for my food and drink, I’d have to sing and dance for the crowd. This prompted me to grab a pickaxe and join him and the other men in crushing clumps of earth not sufficiently smashed by the bull-drawn plough. After 10 minutes of walking the furrows and slamming the pick down sideways on the thick clods, it was back to the shade and the pots of various forms of potatoes and corn. The men sat off to one side while Jenn and I sat with the women and kids, as she was acquainted with most of them and my Spanish is not up to chatting about the price of llamas or football or whatever the men were talking about. Jenn, on the other hand, had been living with these folks for six months and was able to communicate well in Spanish and their own Quechua tongue.

The boys were serving themselves drinks from a clear-glass gallon jug. Something other than chicha. One of them waved the bottle in my direction. I nodded back at him. He came over and poured me a glass and waited while I drank. It was fiery and smooth, like a fine grappa. The day was already bright. It got noticeably lighter …

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: Water

Cockburn: In the ’70s and ’80s, a lot of us became convinced that we shouldn’t drink tap water. We kept hearing about all the industrial and other pollutants, many of which don’t get caught by municipal treatment systems. It seemed as though bottled water was the way to go. Water from a spring somewhere had to be safer and usually tasted better. I, at least, didn’t suspect back then that we were being manipulated into yet another scheme to exploit our fear and the world’s poor at the same time. The bottled-water industry was setting itself up for windfall profits and a global takeover of fresh water sources.

There were those who saw it coming—as well as the potential for bad chemistry between water and the plastic of its containers. Now it’s become “common knowledge.” Water is the new oil. Commercial interests in the developed world are pushing the old colonial agenda, now through so-called free-trade deals rather than conquest. As with oil, though, conquest is never completely ruled out.

Meanwhile, we now know we spent decades swilling a chemical cocktail of carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Tap water begins to look better! Drink local. Aside from lessening exposure to all that noxious crap, it’s the only way to preserve our unfettered access to water. Surely that is the most basic of human rights.

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: Rasputina

Cockburn: And speaking of distortion—Rasputina! Melora Creager’s Brooklyn-based, cellos-plus-drums ensemble is responsible for some great records. The songwriting is rich with brains and sanguine humor, a kind of lighthearted approach to darkness within and without. The folk roots run deep, but they pounce into the present like they’ll eat you. Alive.

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: Konono N°1

Cockburn: Konono N°1 is a band from Kinshasa, Congo. They’ve been around for quite a while, but I became aware of them a couple of years ago. Their sound is based around the likembe, a thumb harp similar to the South African mbira. To this they add vocals, percussion, sometimes electric bass and guitar. My favourite Konono N°1 CD is the one I first encountered, Congotronix, but there’s a recent one called Assume Crash Position.

This is street music par excellence, brimming with brash energy and full of exciting sounds, the music of a true jam band. They play with a kind of joyous rage. The likembes they use are electrified and amplified to the point of a deliciously over-the-top distortion, especially on Congotronix. That sound is less of an element on Assume Crash Position, but the grooves on both are loose and hypnotic and crazy deep as the Olduvai Gorge!

Bruce Cockburn May Change Your Mind: Transcontinental Driving

Cockburn: In 1970, I bought my first truck: a Dodge pickup with a three-speed floor shift. I think I paid around $3,500 for it new. I put an insulated cap on the back and built a bed in it. My then-wife Kitty and I, with our dog Aroo, spent much of the next few years driving back and forth across Canada, living in and out of that truck. The lifestyle changed when our daughter Jenny was born and when touring expanded into something more like a military exercise than the nomadic wandering it had been.

Later on I began to develop a certain nostalgia for that original road experience: for the meditative effect of an unfolding Western highway, for solitude in the presence of large landscapes, for the illusion of freedom. When my girlfriend moved from Brooklyn to San Francisco a while ago and the commute from my house in eastern Ontario got a lot longer, I found myself able to exercise my nostalgia. Having to. The difference now, of course, being that the landscape is that of the U.S. and no longer Canada. Not that it’s new territory. Over the years I’ve played gigs pretty much everywhere in North America. But the ability to savor the landscape and the feeling of travel is a whole other thing when it’s just me.

I have a van with a good sound system. It has a comfortable bed, and I generally camp in truck-stop parking lots. I don’t eat meals per se, but snack on the healthiest stuff I can find and drink too much coffee.

This is me and peak oil. The modern oil industry and I both came to life at the end of WW II. I expect we’ll peak and fade about the same time. It will soon be a very different world. Meanwhile, I don’t suppose my carbon footprint is any bigger travelling by road than by air. It’s likely smaller. And I love these long drives.

March 24, 2011
Music review: Bruce Cockburn's 31st album returns to folk roots

Small Source of Comfort
Bruce Cockburn (True North)

I was introduced to Bruce Cockburn's (pronounced Coe-burn) music around the time of his great double live recording "Circles in the Stream (1977)." At the time, he was an acoustic folk artist whose songs celebrated nature and human relationships, at times in profound Christian language.

His first experience of faith is expressed in "All The Diamonds in the World." Others, like "Dialogue With the Devil (or "Why Don't We Celebrate")," "Joy Will Find Away (A Song About Dying)," and his first American radio hit, "Wondering Where the Lions Are," became a thinking person's contemporary Christian music soundtrack.

One way or another, life forces all of us to evolve. The artist singing about his wife and a new baby on '78's "Further Adventures Of" was singing about divorce and the problem of evil on "Humans," perhaps my very favorite of his albums. We are "Grim Travellers" overwhelmed by "Fascist Architecture" of our own design. Life's mysteries and uncertainties can leave us overwhelmed, but there are "Rumours of Glory."

While his personal life and Christian faith were growing in breadth and depth, Cockburn's political consciousness and resolve to address human injustice and suffering was crystallized in songs like "To Raise the Morning Star," "Call it Democracy," and another song about US policies, "People See Through You." "Nicaragua" and "Santiago Dawn" found Cockburn identifying with the most vulnerable third world peoples, and "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," his second American airplay hit, expressed a desire to retaliate against violent aggression.

Often his songs explored the broader existential human quandaries. We are "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," we find ourselves "Going Up Against Chaos." Bono has famously borrowed a line from "Lovers" for U2's song "God Part II." Sometimes, Cockburn wrote, you "got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight."

While his politics were radicalized, his spiritual understandings were far from stagnant. In "Maybe the Poet," Cockburn echoed Galatians 3:28: "Maybe the poet is gay, but he'll be heard anyway… Maybe the voice of the spirit in which case you better hear it/Maybe he's a woman who can touch you where you're human/Male female slave or free peaceful or disorderly/Maybe you and he will not agree but you need him to show you new ways to see."

As the decades unfolded, Cockburn's musical interests evolved. He started out as a simple folk writer and poet, but delved deeply into jazz and world music, blues and pop and rock & roll. He's an artful guitarist, exceptional on acoustic.

If you're just somehow hearing about Bruce Cockburn's music for the first time, there was a compilation of his radio singles called "Anything Anytime Anywhere" (2002). Still, Cockburn is more of an album artist. Today's top five picks would be: "Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws" ('79), "Humans" ('80), "Stealing Fire" ('84), "Nothing But a Burning Light" ('91, produced by T Bone Burnett), and "Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu" ('99). On another day, I might say "World of Wonders" ('86), or "Life Short Call Now" his last one, from 2006.

That said, "Small Source of Comfort" feels like a return of sort to Cockburn's earliest days as a folky songwriter and stunning acoustic guitars, containing five instrumental tracks. Still, even though the crisp sound of fingerpicked acoustics mark this album, the continued use of subtle world music rhythms keep it fresh. The violins of Jenny Scheinman and the presence of producer and long-time Cockburn collaborator Colin Linden on various guitars, bass, mandolins and other stringed things add to the rich textures.

Cockburn continues to work meaningful metaphors, giving language to the raw core of humanity's longing for meaning and a place of connection. "The Iris of the World" opens with a reflection on how we see life's rich pageant. He writes, "I'm good at catching rainbows, not so good at catching trout… I've got a way with time and space, but numbers freak me out, I've mostly dodged the dogmas of what life is about."

In "Radiance," Cockburn explores the idea of the Divine Feminine, a way of seeing God outside our patriarchal culture. "Five Fifty-One" explores urban tensions and gives the disc its title. "Small source of comfort, dawn was breaking on the air… you don't take those things for granted when you think of what's in need of repair."

One of two songs written with Annabelle Chvostek, "Boundless" offers a sense of wonder as we humans sacrifice the ultimate good for the immediate. We're "picking at sores in the hope they'll heal, hungry and harrowed and caught in wheel," but still "we're looking for the stillness in the womb of space."

Often profoundly personal here, there's a political edge borne of experience in "Each One Lost," written after witnessing the return  of two young Canadian Forces members killed serving in the Middle East. "The tears in our hearts, make an ocean we're all in, all in this together don't you know." But then in defiance against the forces of death and dogma, he writes, "Some would have us bow in bondage to their dreams of little gods who lay down laws to live by, but all these inventions arise from fear of love and open-hearted tolerance and trust." Then in a burst of prophetic anger: "Well screw the rule of law, we want the rule of love enough to fight and die to keep it coming."

Life is serious, because its so precious; it's precious, because it's so serious, and funny too. The song "Call Me Rose," imagines Richard Nixon reincarnated as a woman of color living as a single mother: "I used to be the king of the world, I'm back here learning what it is to be poor, to have no power but the strength to endure."

And so it goes, some things are so difficult, unfair and painful that you have to laugh, we make fun as best we can. We do the dance, we endure, we make love, we live on, and the music helps us on the way.

The Rev. Brian Q. Newcomb is Senior Minister at David's UCC in Kettering, Ohio, and a long-time music critic published in Billboard, CCM Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others.


March 21, 2011
Lexington Herald-Leader

Critic's pick: Bruce Cockburn, 'Small Source of Comfort'
by Walter Tunis Contributing Music Writer

Four-plus decades into the game, Bruce Cockburn remains a folk journeyman, an artist whose chronicles balance the political and  the spiritual while speaking bluntly from the heart and even more so from various troubled ports of the world.

And then there is the not-so-small matter of his abundant resourcefulness as a guitarist. With all these wells to draw from, it's no wonder the veteran songsmith has no shortage of ideas or inspiration to forge music.

You might think otherwise at the onset of Small Source of Comfort, Cockburn's first album of new songs in five years. In the liner notes, he labels the album-opening The Iris of the World almost apologetically as a road song. "I did a lot of driving between Kingston, Ontario, and Brooklyn, N.Y.," he writes. "Not to mention many other places." But it's a riveting travelogue of a tune; the modes of transportation are never clearly defined and the destination is seldom visible — at least, not initially.

"I've got a way with time and space, but numbers freak me out," Cockburn sings. "I've mostly dodged the dogmas of what life is all  about."

On Each One Lost, Cockburn bears witness to a "ramp ceremony" in Afghanistan, during which two fallen Canadian soldiers are honored before being flown home. Cockburn views the loss, and the inevitable love the soldiers inspire, in universal but devastatingly simple terms: "Each one lost is everyone's loss."

Musically, Small Source of Comfort is one of Cockburn's lightest and leanest albums in years. The songs are primarily designed within mostly acoustic parameters. Veteran sidekick Colin Linden again is the producer, and the longstanding rhythm section of bassist John Dymond and drummer Gary Craig offer tasteful support. There are two new recruits on board.

Cockburn wrote a pair of songs with folk stylist Annabelle Chvostek: the slo-mo meditation Driving Away and a more ethereal tale of travel, Boundless. The other enlistee is violinist Jenny Scheinman, an artist known for balancing expert songcraft and with equally audacious instrumental smarts (she has collaborated extensively with guitarist Bill Frisell).

Scheinman opens Cockburn up to several jazzy turns, especially within the five instrumentals peppered among Small Source of Comfort's 14-song lineup. The summery and travel-themed Lois on the Autobahn is a spry highlight among the wordless tunes.

Small Source of Comfort concludes with a surprise, an affirmation called Gifts. It was a staple of Cockburn's early-career concert repertoire. The liner notes date the tune back to 1968, with the singer adding, "Didn't seem right to record it until now." On an album infatuated with travel, Gifts is the home where Cockburn's sublime music returns.


Magnet Magazine
March 21, 2011

Q&A With Bruce Cockburn
by Eric T. Miller

Small Source Of Comfort (True North) is the latest LP from legendary Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn. It’s also his 31st studio album in a career that dates back all the way to the mid-’60s. Over the years, Cockburn has become one of his country’s most successful and honored musicians, winning more than his share of awards and accolades, not only for his music but also for his longtime humanitarian work. This week, Cockburn adds MAGNET guest editor to his already impressive resume. We caught up with him via email.

MAGNET: This is your 31st studio album. If asked, do you think you could, off the top of your head, name the other 30 in the order  they were released? How many songs do you think you have written in total?

Cockburn: I believe I could come up with the correct list of albums and the order of their release. I often use them as reference points when trying to remember when other things happened. I guess I’ve written between 350 and 400 songs. Quite a few crappy ones were written before the ones on the first record.

Your first album came out in 1970, before a lot of us were even born, so you have seen, up close, all of the changes in the music industry. What do you think are the most significant ones? How different is making and releasing records for you now than it was in, say, 1970 or 1980 or even 1990?

BC: The most important and most obvious change is in the technology. We used to have to go to the store and buy vinyl (or even bakelite) discs. We used to have to go to a professional studio to record! For me personally, the way we do things hasn’t changed so much up to now. It seems likely that there are changes looming on the horizon, as record companies become ever more redundant and the means of distribution keep changing.

I heard you only recently finally got a computer. What made you give in to technology, and more important, is it a Mac or PC? Do you involve yourself with Facebook, MySpace, etc.?

BC: It’s true I only recently got a computer. My girlfriend gave me a Mac for Christmas. It’s really she who has driven my plunge into the e-world, first with a BlackBerry, then a digital camera and now the Mac. I had not felt the need for these things before this relationship,, but because of my travels we spend a lot of time apart. It’s very helpful to be able to communicate faster. And then, of course, there’s the shopping!

You made a trip to Afghanistan in 2009, which inspired two songs on the new album. What prompted you to go there? How did it shape your view of the war going on there?

BC: I went to Afghanistan in September 2009 as part of a small group of people from the world of music and sports. The expectation was that we would offer some entertainment and a morale boost to the troops based at Kandahar Air Field. This we did our best to do. At that time, the base was being run by the Canadian Forces. I was happy to perform for our people. My personal motivation had a lot to do with curiosity and also a sense of solidarity with, and concern for, all those young Canadians risking life and limb so far from home. My brother had recently joined the army as a doctor, after a successful career in the civilian sector. He was soon sent to Kandahar for the standard six-month tour of duty in one of the base hospitals. He and I both thought that I should try to get there during his stay. I’d wanted to do something like this for years and it had never happened, so it seemed like here was my chance. Over the years I’ve traveled to other war zones, first in Central America, then Africa, then Asia, and Kosovo and the Middle East. In the course of some of those trips, I have found myself in the company of soldiers, but never Canadians. It excited me to see what it felt like to be among my own people in that kind of situation. I have to say I was very impressed with the sincerity and professionalism I found among the many Canadian Forces members I talked to. They clearly believe in their mission, which they see as one of creating an atmosphere of peace in Afghanistan that would permit development in all its forms. They picture a 30-year process. A whole generation of kids has to grow up in relative security for there to be a sufficient level of education to afford the understanding and expectation of democracy, for example. Our soldiers feel they can succeed at this if given the necessary support. I’m not so sure they can. At the same time, though, how can our increasingly globalized world tolerate the chaos that has been that country’s history? The absence of human rights, especially for women, cries out for change, not to mention the festering sore of a strategically located state run by carpetbaggers and/or religious gangsters.

You have always been involved in humanitarian work. Most of the time, people concentrate on the positive changes you have made, but how has this work changed you?

BC: Over the years I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in helping a lot of people who are committed to bringing positive change to the world. My role has generally been that of mouthpiece. Since I’m lucky enough to have the public visibility I do, I can sometimes be useful in drawing attention to things that need doing and to help generate support for the people and organizations who do the real work. This involvement has taken me to many interesting parts of the world and furthered my education immeasurably. Once in a while a good song comes out of these adventures! The landscapes I’ve walked, the people I’ve met, the relief of having come through a scary situation—all these have given me a very different understanding of myself and the world than I would otherwise have.

You have a reputation as being a restless spirit. How much time do you spend at home in Ontario as opposed to traveling?

BC: I have a pretty cool house in Ontario, which I love being in. It’s the first place I can remember living, in my entire life, that actually feels like more than a base camp. I’m not there very much of the time.

Why did you call the new album Small Source Of Comfort?

BC: When I wrote the song “Five Fifty-One,” I wrote in the second verse, “Small source of comfort, dawn was breaking in the air … You don’t take these things for granted when you think of what’s in need of repair.” Sometimes things seem that precarious. The phrase “small source of comfort” jumped out at me. It seemed to want to be an album title. I liked both the sense of hope and its faintness. I figured if nothing came along that said “title!” in a louder voice that the next album would be called that, and there it is.

“Call Me Rose” is written from the perspective of Richard Nixon. But the twist is he has been reincarnated as a poor, single mom. What inspired that?

BC: I have no idea where “Call Me Rose” really came from. I woke up one morning with the song in my head, almost complete. I don’t remember having dreamt it, but it was there. I thought it was quite weird, but it seemed like a gift, so I finished it. I think it came out pretty well. With hindsight, I suspect it may have been sparked by what was then a recent campaign by Official (Bush) America to rehabilitate the image of Richard Nixon. Various pundits could be heard to say that he was the greatest president ever, that he was terribly misunderstood, etc. After several weeks the apparent campaign abruptly stopped. People just weren’t buying it. I may have been thinking about what his actual rehabilitation might look like, i.e., the redemption of Richard Nixon’s soul.

You wrote “Gifts” in 1968 but waited until now to record it. How come now was the right time for you to do so? Did you change it much over the years?

BC: I used to use “Gifts” to close shows back in the late ’60s. When we made the first album at the end of ’69, Bernie Finkelstein, my manager and the founder of True North Records, asked me about including the song. I thought the album didn’t need it. I responded with, “Oh, I’m saving that one for the last album.” Is this the last album? No idea. The first one could have been the last! It just felt like the right time to record it … just in case.

I love the line “I’m good at catching rainbows, not so good at catching trout” from “The Iris Of The World.” Do you know immediately when you come up with a lyric like that that you did good?

BC: Sometimes a line comes out that feels as though it will touch people strongly. More often I have to live with the ideas and execution for a while before I know what I think I’ve got.

The shorthand description of your music is “folk,” but that is really too limiting. How would you describe it? In your mind, how has it  changed over the years?

BC: The music is always in a state of flux. It’s the lyrics that mainly determine what the music should be like in any given song. Sometimes things want to go in a folkier direction. Other words need a rockier or jazzier slant. I keep wanting to explore the possibilities wherever that leads. In the beginning, I resisted being called a folksinger, as it seemed to me that the term implied a connection to some specific tradition. I didn’t feel I could make that claim. As time went on, I resigned myself to the idea that labeling is inescapable. They’re going to call you something, and there are worse things than “folksinger.”

You are an Officer of the Order Of Canada, a member of the Canadian Music Hall Of Fame and the Canadian Broadcast Hall Of Fame, have been awarded a handful of honorary doctorates in Canada and the U.S., and only about 10 musicians have won more Juno Awards than you. First off, thanks for making the rest of us feel like no-talent losers. But what motivates you to keep going when no one would argue that you have already earned all the time off you want for the rest of your life?

BC: I may have earned the time off, but somebody has to keep buying the food. I expect to retire when I become incapacitated, physically or mentally. I fervently hope I recognize the moment when it comes!


The Globe and Mail
March 20, 2011

Bruce Cockburn: Small Source of Comfort

by Brad Wheeler

Bruce Cockburn, who, like James Taylor, has seen fire, rain and many other things, has made a poetic travelogue of an acoustic album, one that is adroit, soulful and musically compelling. Instrumental interludes, often with the mood-setting violinist Jenny Scheinman, find Cockburn’s 65-year-old fingers in nimble form. Lyrics are just as agile – by turns evocative (the sensual Radiance salutes womanhood within a dance-score setting), elegiac (Each One Lost humanely documents a solemn Afghan experience) and playfully pointed (Call Me Rose imagines a Richard Nixon humbled by reincarnation). There’s an elegant bustle and thoughtfulness to the trip offered by Cockburn, so join him. A wise companion is half the journey.

-Four Stars


March 15, 2011

BRUCE COCKBURN small sources of comfort

by Spencer Brown

"There hasn't been a lot of it," responds Bruce Cockburn when asked how his morning has been, "but, so far, so good." This kind reply comes from a man who holds various honorary degrees, is counted as an Officer of the Order of Canada and is also a major influence on songwriters both at home and abroad. It's the same kind of slow but steady approach that has spawned his latest album, Small Source of Comfort.

“The theme is of journey,” he ventures of his latest album, which is six years in the making, “of road travel and that's a constant as all these songs have road references. Perhaps the song that sums the album up the most is ‘Boundless’ (co-written with Montreal's Annabelle Chvostek), where the road is a metaphor, filled with the imagery from travelling and the feelings of encountering those things. The song has a modern orientation. It's really more a statement, life as a journey.”

Cockburn notes that his life as a musician has always involved a journey in some way or another. "Back in the early ‘70s, my first wife and I lived in a camper for the first half of the ‘70s. We traveled back and forth across Canada, because in those days, I organized my tours differently then the way I do now.” However, he has become nostalgic of that in recent years.

"It happened coincidentally that I had an American girlfriend in Brooklyn,” he explains of his return to the road. “So, there I was, commuting between Kingston and Brooklyn, taking day-long drives through New York and Pennsylvania. Then she moved to San Francisco, so now it's six day drive. And it has satisfied that hunger for the road in a wonderful way.”

“The songs were all being written on one or two day drives and all the lyrics predate move to San Francisco. 'Iris of the World,' reflects the drive to Kingston and Brooklyn.”

The travelogue on Small Source of Comfort isn't solely confined to crossing the border. "The Comets of Kandahar" is one of two tracks reflecting Bruce Cockburn's trip to Afghanistan. "My brother is an Emergency Room anesthesiologist. He thought that as the kind of doctor he was, the army needed his expertise. So, as a 50-something year-old, he went through basic training and then to Afghanistan for a six-month tour. We each badgered the army until I was accepted into the ‘Team Canada’.”

“We went for a week and got to perform for the troops. One of the bases they took us to was a practice range and they let us shoot some stuff, which," laughs Cockburn, "is a very long build-up to the title.” The comets to which he refers are the nickname given by Canadian soldiers to jet fighters taking off at night. "I loved the phrase and the image, because it's just such a spectacular phrase.”

The other song based on his Afghan experience is "Each One Lost,” which deals with witnessing the Ramp Ceremony of two Canadian soldier's remains being sent home.

"That song is at other end of the spectrum. I've never seen such tragedy and to have it treated with such honour and dignity. There was just such a deep feeling among the troops during this ramp ceremony.” Almost immediately, Cockburn muses that "Each One Lost” and “If I had a Rocket Launcher” are similar, in that “the two songs in a way, form a bracket to several decades. ‘If I Had a Rocket Launcher’ is about being victimized by troops in Guatemala. It was in terms of my own feelings, my reaction to a  situation was so intense, it had to form a song. And so did being on Kandahar Airfield for that ceremony, so in that way, they're a pair.”

For anyone even passingly familiar with Bruce Cockburn's work, his political sensibilities are ever present. "Politics," he quips, "are inescapable part of life. So as they end up in the songs, they do so based on my own direct involvement in issues. If someone asks if I can help them along if I can get behind it. I will if I can. All the political stuff I've accepted are those kind of involvements. I may be more skeptical of anyone able to change the way the world's going, but that being said, it's worth going after those things and helping the genuine things like the environment and improving the lives of people.”

Given that Cockburn's career has spanned more years than this writer's life, Cockburn acknowledges that he sees people his own age at shows.

“These are people who have been listening since the beginning although some people begin to tune in after a bit. The US audience got bigger after Stealing Fire but I'm usually among people my own age with a Canadian crowd. These are people who have been listening since the ‘70s and sometimes, I find it amazing that I've survived all this, that they still listen.” That doesn't mean that newer fans are spurned, either: "I'm grateful for young people. I don't want me and my audience to die together.”

Of course, you can't release a road trip album and not tour, so fans can look forward to seeing Bruce Cockburn in a variety of venues across the country. "Both the drummer and violinist who are both on the album greatly aid in making everything more energetic and musically interesting," reveals Cockburn. "It's been five years ago or so since I toured with a band." He pauses to grin, "I'm actually really looking forward to making a slightly louder noise this time around."


March 14, 2011
No Depression

Great Source of Comfort: Through the years with Bruce Cockburn

Small Source of Comfort |
Review by Douglas Heselgrave

Bruce Cockburn has always been a brave artist. In the 42 years that have passed since the singer and guitarist released his first album there aren’t many musical styles that he hasn’t tried his hand at. Indeed, early indications from the Canadian icon hinted that his 31st album would be a ‘noise record’ with the guitar turned up to eleven, but as fascinating as the prospect of imagining the bespectacled axe man shredding white hot sheets of distorted metallic riffs upon his unsuspecting public may be, his newest release, ‘Small Source of Comfort’ treads familiar – that is to say comfortable - ground. But, one listen through the lovely set of songs and instrumental tracks Cockburn has provided for the faithful this time out should be enough to reassure them that that’s a good thing. A very good thing. 

Of course, Canadians need no introduction to Bruce Cockburn – his music has become as deep a part of the Northern experience as the turning colours of leaves in an eastern fall and the first February irises of Vancouver. But, for those people just coming into contact with his formidable body of work, perhaps a little background is in order. The end of the sixties was a heady time for Canadian musicians. When Bruce Cockburn’s first self-titled album was released in 1969, the acoustic folk he played at that time – with its messages of peace, love and simple living – found a receptive audience with people who enjoyed the music of his contemporaries such as Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. 

Like Joni Mitchell, Cockburn has never been a musician content to rest upon his laurels or tried and true formulas. Over the last four decades, his music has constantly evolved as his restless imagination continues to seek out new sounds and styles to communicate with. The charming folk songs he recorded in his early career are perhaps best represented by the wonderful ‘High Winds White Sky’ album which was released in 1971. Featuring enduring songs such as ‘Let us go Laughing’ and ‘One Day I Walk’, it is still an album that many of his long time fans list as a favourite. By the mid-seventies, Cockburn began to explore jazz and to embellish his songs with world music textures on albums such as 1975’s ‘Joy Will Find a Way’ and 1979’s ‘Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws’ which featured the breakthrough top 40 hit, ‘Wondering where the Lions Are.’ The song ‘Tokyo’ from ‘Humans’, Cockburn’s next album climbed the charts in Canada and seemed to indicate that mainstream success was just around the corner for the unassuming guitarist. 

Where many artists would have been content to follow the course that had been encouraged and rewarded by the marketplace, the success of ‘Dancing’ and ‘Humans’ perversely – some would say – encouraged Cockburn to explore increasingly experimental non-commercial music with albums like 1983’s angry ‘Trouble with Normal’ that showcased his expressionistic spoken word poetry and some very aggressive ‘outside’ guitar work. 

Cockburn’s next release ‘Stealing Fire’ was another breakthrough album chocked full of angry political songs like ‘If I had a Rocket  Launcher’ and ‘Peggy’s Kitchen Wall’ that descried the human rights abuses of the Reagan era. These vehement outbursts were balanced by more uplifting songs like ‘Contact’ and the still transcendent ‘Lovers in a Dangerous Time’ which later on became a huge hit for The Barenaked Ladies. 

As the eighties continued, Cockburn’s output became more fractured. He travelled more frequently into abrasive musical territory as his guitar playing became more edgy and experimental – a situation which resulted in his music sometimes sounding more like John Zorn’s than the feel good hippie melodies that attracted high profile admirers such as Jerry Garcia and Crosby, Stills and Nash. His albums often reflected a struggle to find balance as he mixed the personal and political with songs like ‘Call it Democracy’ and the uplifting ‘Waiting for a Miracle’ which became a concert mainstay for the Jerry Garcia Band in the late eighties and early nineties. 

After releasing a series of uneven albums which left his fans increasingly puzzled and perhaps reflected an artist searching for relevance and direction, Cockburn teamed up with T Bone Burnett – a kindred spirit who shared his progressive Christian faith – to produce ‘Nothing but a Burning Light in 1990. Aided and abetted by Booker T. on keyboards, Jim Keltner on drums and Jackson Browne on guitar and vocals ‘Nothing but a Burning Light’ was the album that his fans had been waiting a decade for. With songs like ‘Indian Wars’, ‘Soul of a Man’ and ‘Child of the Wind’, it remains one of the best acoustic albums released in the last two decades. A triumph of songwriting and arrangement, it is the album that many of his listeners consider the high point of his career and deserves a place in everyone’s record collection. ‘Dart to the Heart’ - Cockburn’s next album was also produced by Burnett and featured some very good songs, but it failed to recapture the magic of its predecessor. 

From the middle of the nineties to the new century, Cockburn continued to release albums like clockwork as he restlessly alternated between acoustic folk, jazz and experimental music in an effort to find a comfortable place for his muse to dwell. Like many of his long time fans, my interest in his career waned during this period. Though he released some fine albums like ‘The Charity of Night’ and ‘You’ve Never Seen Anything’ during these years, it was easy to get the sense that Cockburn’s best creative years were behind him. Ironically, for an artist known for his biting and insightful lyrics, it took the release of ‘Speechless’ in 2005 - an album featuring instrumental music compiled from various points in his career – to bring many of his old listeners back into the fold. It served to remind them that whatever myriad musical paths Cockburn had wandered down over the last four decades, he remained one of the best guitarists and composers anywhere. 

‘Small Source of Comfort’ has just been released and thankfully this newly minted collection of songs and instrumental tracks plays to all of Cockburn’s strengths and is certainly the best collection he’s put out in several years. The songs are primarily acoustic based and feature some wonderful supporting performances from the Brookyln based violinist Jenny Scheinman (Bill Frisell) and some thrilling and intuitive drumming from Gary Craig. But, as with all of Cockburn’s albums – the guitar is front and centre and drives the whole show. In this department, Bruce Cockburn has never sounded better. From the soaring intricate dances that the sixty five year old’s still nimble fingers trace up and down the neck of the guitar to the incredible arrangements and sympathetic recording, ‘Small Source of Comfort’ is a musician’s record from beginning to end. 

In terms of structure, the songs are often counterpointed by instrumental tracks that often seem to comment or extend the themes and sentiments of the lyrics. This was a wise move on Cockburn’s part as over the years his lyrics have become more demanding and rhythmically complicated, revealing a subtle conflict between the demands of the words and the suggestions of the melodies. As a result, the lyrics don’t always come rolling like honey off of Cockburn’s tongue. Like a Quaker long held to silence, the singer seems to have reached a point where he speaks when necessary, so that the marriage of words and music isn’t always as graceful as it was in the past. For example, a line like ‘the dichotomy of being a sentient being’ that opens ‘Driving Away’ might read well on paper, but is terribly difficult to pull off in a song. Yet, given time the subtlety and care that Cockburn and Colin Linden  – his producer – give to the musical arrangements allow a grace and beauty to emerge once the listener gets past the self-doubt and insecurity that are sometimes inherent to the delivery of the lyrics. 

Indeed, Bruce Cockburn’s occasional awkwardness and artlessness have become part of his charm. For every strained phrase about ‘avoiding dogmas’ or being plagued by doubt, there are polished gems that resonate with haiku like simplicity and power. Lyrically speaking, Bruce Cockburn puts himself on the line every time and that’s what separates him from most other artists out there. His poetry remains heartfelt and his words delivered without compromise as forty two years into his professional career he has upheld the courage to ‘put it out there’ and sing about what is on his mind and weighing upon his heart. And, when it works, it works brilliantly. On songs like ‘Each One Lost’ which describes a recent trip to Afghanistan during which he witnessed two young Canadian soldiers who had lost their lives being shipped home, Cockburn’s lack of self-consciousness as well as the humanity he brings to the lyrics allow him to pull off a song which could have easily been marred by maudlin sentiments or obvious finger pointing. Simple, direct and obvious – it is nevertheless a masterful piece of song craft. 

Other standout tracks include “Iris of the World’ with its driving melody adding a little levity and bounce to Cockburn’s dark witty observations about cross border travel in the days of peak oil. Listening to it, one continually marvels how Cockburn finds just the right musical phrasing to support his often complex lyrical observations without the whole proceedings veering off into a musical train wreck. On other songs like ‘Boundless’, Cockburn creates a musical soundscape that begins with bells and gongs (I was worried) before devolving into a hyper kinetic amphetamine groove that perfectly complements his beat poetry inspired observations about faith and hypocrisy. 

As with all of Bruce Cockburn’s albums there are a few less successful songs. Of these, ‘Call me Back’ is an interesting sketch featuring a great melody that never quite takes off. Really, the only really questionable track on the album is the ambitious ‘Rosie’ – a song that explores what would happen if Richard Nixon was reincarnated as a girl living in poverty in the slums of a large American city. The lyrics work surprisingly well on paper and the music is interesting, but Cockburn never quite successfully merges these diverse elements and the resulting song comes off as less than the sum of its parts. 

The most interesting cuts on Bruce Cockburn’s recent albums have often been the instrumental ones. While ‘Small Sense of Comfort’ certainly features some of Cockburn’s best songs in years, the seven wordless compositions he recorded for the album are each staggeringly beautiful and indicate an artist who continues to grow and develop as a musician. Whether one prefers the Django Reinhardtisms of ‘Lois on the Autobahn’ – a tribute to Cockburn’s deceased mother – or ‘The Bohemian 3 Step’ featuring dazzling interplay between Scheinman’s violin and Cockburn’s guitar, there is something to inspire everyone here. Every one of the seven instrumental tracks feature distinct musical ideas and styles, yet taken as a whole they help ‘Small Sense of Comfort’ achieve a seamless flow that has often been missing from Cockburn’s recent albums. Special mention must be made of ‘Comets of Kandahar’ another composition that arose out of the artist’s recent trip to Afghanistan. Reminiscent of the power and scope of Jimi Hendrix’s Machine Gun – Cockburn’s guitar and Scheinman’s violin recreate missiles lighting up the Afghan sky at night as the melody wordlessly communicates the suppressed rage and despair that was only hinted at in the previously mentioned ‘Each One Lost.’ 

‘Small Sense of Comfort’ is a very solid addition to Bruce Cockburn’s already formidable body of work. For those who have loved his music, but lost track of him over the years, ‘Small Sense of Comfort’ is a great reason to jump on the Cockburn bus again and ride it to the end of the line. It is far less of a mixed bag than anything he has released in years and is destined to become one of his classics alongside such highly regarded albums as ‘High Winds, White Sky’ and ‘Nothing But a Burning Light.’ ‘Small Sense of  Comfort’ is the album his faithful have been waiting for, and a great starting point for those unfamiliar with his previous work. Highly, highly recommended.


The Daily Gleaner
March 10, 2011

Cockburn's album latest treat in career of a Canadian legend

Bruce Cockburn's new album, Small Source Of Comfort, is his first studio album in five years, but his 31st album overall.

Officially released Tuesday, it is the latest treat in the unique and stellar career of this 65-year-old Canadian legend. Cockburn is a  world-class lyrical poet who has been favourably and aptly compared to Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot with respect to the exquisite detail and timing of his language.

The melodies, meanwhile, are skeletons drawn into the craft of the wordsmith, serving as perfect vehicles for his inventive, tuneful, and virtuosic guitar playing and his hooking quaver of a voice.

He sometimes delivers free-flowing lines whose blizzards of imagery just fit into a measure, and sometimes presents biting, staccato lines leaving spaces filled by economic but always intense accompaniment. There is never a lazy line or misplaced sharp image either written or played.

As has been the case for the past couple of decades, Cockburn plays various acoustic guitars crafted by Toronto-based luthier Linda Manzer. Colin Linden adds a production hand which is deft and distinctive without being either dominant or overwhelming.

The core band this time around features Cockburn on guitars and occasional various percussion tools, violinist Jenny Scheinman,  drummer Gary Craig, and bassist John Dymond. Side collaborators include string player/vocalist Annabelle Chvostek and multi-instrumentalist Linden.

On the one hand, the album follows typical Cockburn terrain. On the other hand, nobody does this sort of craft any better.

To wit, the album-opening mid-tempo toggle Iris Of The World is a travelogue of separate moments in time. Unlike the world travel which has marked many Cockburn songs of the last three decades, this one has its roots in commutes between his Kingston home and his girlfriend's place in Brooklyn. Its second cousin of a travelogue is the crooner Driving Away, a rare co-write for Cockburn (with Chvostek).

The odd chord progression of Radiance, a song which conjures up images of the title track to his 1997 masterpiece The Charity Of Night, displays one lyrical side of the Cockburn coin - a searching pilgrim.

He is just as effective as a wry jokester in Called Me Back, and he is just as adept at a melody and style that perfectly fits the tongue-in-cheek feel of that song - a jug band style skin to his covers of Mary Had A Baby and Early On One Christmas Morn from the 1993 disc Christmas. Vintage in a different way is Five Fifty-One - an acoustic blues rocker with great lyrics and 12-string guitar work by Cockburn with a feel which recalls his 1991 album Nothing But A Burning Light.

Cockburn's masterworks of the 1980s are recalled on several of the pieces which employ Scheinman prominently, conjuring up images of Hugh Marsh's central role in his '80s bands.

One striking example is the relative rocker Boundless, which also gets an extra oomph from Chvostek's mandolin working in counterpoint to Cockburn's guitar work.

Cockburn travelled to Afghanistan in 2009. While on his way to Kandahar, he was at a Canadian staging base in the Middle East on the day Major Yannick Pépin and Corporal Jean-François Drouin were killed. He found himself part of the ramp ceremony for the repatriation of their earthly remains. The song Each One Lost ensured, and it is the latest entry of his canon which poignantly addresses the oneness of all humanity.

The 14 tracks include five instrumentals. While many are shared spotlights, and some are clear Scheinman showcases, the virtuosity of Cockburn's playing, as well as the sense of wonder one has when they realize that all of these sounds are being made buy one man on one instrument with no overdubs, is especially evident on Ancestors and Bohemian 3-Step.

The album's lead single is Call Me Rose. On the surface, it is a relatively straight folk rocker. However, its storyline is pure Cockburn - wry, political, and spiritual.

According to the liner notes, he awoke one morning with the notion of a truly rehabilitated Richard Nixon reincarnated as a single mother in a housing project.

There is always a certain gravitas to all of Cockburn's music.

However, it comes full circle on Small Source Of Comfort, in that the album's closer is the brief benediction Gifts. Written in 1968 but never previously recorded or released, it resonates as richly and authentically as the rest of the material written over four decades later.

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.


The Ottawa Citizen
March 9, 2011

Bruce Cockburn Makes Music to Travel By
by Mike Bell, Post Media News

Like Route 66, Bruce Cockburn's career has a sense of timelessness, nostalgia and -still -vitality associated with it.

It's a road that, because of the artist's 40-year career, holds a great deal of history and points of interest, but still keeps moving forward, offering new highlights, new diversions and new sources of wonder.

That latest pit stop is Small Source of Comfort, the iconic Canadian singer-songwriter's new album, which hit stores Tuesday and which is, by most estimates, his 31st album, including live releases and greatest hits compilations.

"I didn't do the counting, but that's what I've been told," says Cockburn, gently laughing. "I'm glad to still be getting any songs at all, or still feel there's anything fresh going on."

There apparently is, as the 14 tracks that make up the collection of contemplative jazz-folk-pop offerings show. Cockburn, a member of the Order of Canada, multiple Junowinner, and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee, isn't ready to stand still, and still has a great deal to say.

From the lush, flowing opener Iris of the World, to the sweet, lilting closer Gifts, the 65-year-old musician takes the listener on another stunning musical journey, while offering literal and wonderfully figurative observations on everything from the images of past U.S. presidents and the annoyance of missed phone calls to the war in Afghanistan -all accompanied by brief signposts in the album's booklet.

"It seemed like the friendly thing to do," Cockburn says, then laughs. "It's nice to have mystery in everything, but some of these things are just so odd. . It just seemed timely to put a bit of that personal observation for folks that were interested in the album."

And while Cockburn says there was never meant to be one specific narrative planned for the record, which is his first studio recording in six years and was produced by friend Colin Linden, one of the recurring themes throughout the songs is the idea of travel, the idea of time spent moving from one place to another.

He admits it might have been partly due to his many commutes from his home in Ontario to visit his New York-based girlfriend, who then increased the driving distance between them by moving to San Francisco a couple of years ago, but he's also aware that there is a definite sense of movement running through the record, of moving ahead in life.

"A lurching-forward record?" he says, laughing again. "You're right to notice it in the album. Not all of my albums -even though a lot of them involve references to travel -they don't all have this kind of relationship to highway travel. This is long-range North American driving, primarily. There's Afghanistan, of course, but, from a travel perspective, that's almost an aside.

"The Iris of the World, Boundless, the feel of the instrumental Lois on the Autobahn, Driving Away, for instance, I mean, all of these things really say highway. . It's easy to make the highway into a metaphor for various aspects of life, from the spiritual to the fearful and restless."
As Cockburn notes, the pair of songs inspired by a September 2009 trip to spend time with the troops in Afghanistan -the instrumental The Comets of Kandahar and Each One Lost -may serve as something of a detour in the disc, but hold with them an incredible amount of emotional context and meaning. The latter, especially, is a heartbreaking highlight of the disc, a moving description of a Ramp Ceremony for a pair of fallen soldiers he encountered during his weeklong visit -to see his brother Captain John Cockburn, a doctor with Canadian Forces, and to perform for the troops.

No stranger to combat zones, (he has spent time with various social and humanitarian agencies, in addition to his own travels), Cockburn says the Afghanistan experience was a rich and powerful one.

"Except for the tragedy, it was a great trip," he says. "By tragedy, I mean the tragedy of those two Canadians that are referred to in that song, having lost their lives, but it's a war zone, you're in a sea of tragedy when you're in a war zone."

"That being said, it was exciting and enjoyable, and the company of the Canadian Forces folks was good company to be in, and I was impressed with their commitment. . It was interesting to me, in a personal way, because I've been in other war zones, but never with the Canadian Forces, never surrounded by Canadians. I've been on Nicaraguan army bases in Nicaragua, I've been accompanied by soldiers in Mozambique, and I've been in other war zones in Baghdad and Cambodia -there's a lot of that stuff going on in the world; it's not hard to find it.

"But it was the first time that I actually had the opportunity to see how it feels to be with a bunch of Canadians in that kind of situation, and also to be kind of on the inside of the wire, so to speak, because in other situations . either in the course of working with (non-governmental organizations) like USC Canada or Oxfam, or by having ended up there, as with some of the trips to Central America and the trip to Baghdad, there was no formal agenda, it was just, 'OK, let's see what we see now.' "

As to whether the outspoken artist and activist's views changed about a war that many, including him, think may not be winnable, Cockburn, a man famous for the song If I Had a Rocket Launcher, says simply, "It certainly gave me pause for thought.

"I have great sympathy for, and to some degree empathy with, those young Canadians that are over there in uniform, doing their best to get a very difficult thing done -and really, likely, an impossible thing. And I have great respect for them and the respect ratcheted up quite a bit from being close up to them for a week.

"But it's war. A sane person doesn't think war is a good idea. I'm not a pacifist. I feel that there are situations where fighting is inescapable, but we don't go looking for those things and, like I said, anybody with any degree of sanity is going to do their best to avoid getting into those situations. . There are some decision-makers in the world whose version of sanity is a little different from what I consider the right one.

"But the war in Afghanistan, they think if they're given enough time and support they can win it, and you have to respect that, because they're the ones looking at it up close, but at the same time, it seems unlikely to me that they will get either the time or the support, or at least, get the support for a long enough time to accomplish the mission."

Now, however, Cockburn is focused on his own mission, which is to get Small of Source of Comfort in front of North American audiences, as he and his "tiny but perfect band" do an extensive tour that will take him across Canada before dipping down into the U.S. and taking him to his girlfriend in San Francisco.

What's next? What does the road ahead offer a songwriter who seems to have seen and done it all in his four-decade-long career? Cockburn laughs. "Down the road is too long-range a plan for the moment."

The album: Small Source of Comfort by Bruce Cockburn was released March 8.

The tour: Cockburn plays the National Arts Centre April 15. Tickets available through Ticketmaster

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen


Paste Magazine
March 8, 2011

Catching Up With... Bruce Cockburn
by Andy Whitman

During a career that stretches back to the late 1960s, Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn has explored introspective mysticism and political protest within a musical framework that encompasses everything from classic folk fingerpicking to a dizzying jazz/folk/rock hybrid. A dazzling guitarist and poetic lyricist, Cockburn is the recipient of numerous Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy), and has experienced the dubious glories of Top 40 hits and MTV airplay. He’s yet to release an album that is anything less than beautifully played and lyrically challenging. These days he splits his time between Canada and the U.S. and dreams of Richard Nixon. Paste caught up with Cockburn, discussing the release of Small Source of Comfort, his 31st album.

Paste: The song that I suspect will elicit the most commentary on your new album Small Source of Comfort is “Call Me Rose,” where you envision Richard Nixon reincarnated as a poor single woman with two kids in the projects. Can you tell me what inspired that song?

Bruce Cockburn: Well, you’re probably not going to like the answer. Honestly, it came to me in a dream. I woke up and the song was just there, pretty much fully formed. That’s only happened to me once or twice in the past. The first verse—the one where Richard Nixon is reincarnated as a poor single woman with two kids—was definitely right there when I woke up. And I couldn’t even tell you precisely what inspired it. I think, at the time, there may have been an effort underway at the U.S. State Department to rehabilitate the image of Richard Nixon, so that may have been in the back of my mind. But who knows? It was a strange experience. Songs don’t usually come to me that way.

Paste: What’s prompted the emphasis on instrumentals over the past few albums? You’ve always incorporated instrumentals as part of your music, but it seems like the past few years, with Speechless, the all-instrumental album, and the five instrumentals that appear on Small Source of Comfort, that there’s been a greater focus. Is there anything behind that?

Cockburn: I don’t know. It’s probably too early to call it a trend. We’ll see what happens. I usually start with the words, and then build the songs from there. But there were a number of songs this time that just came out as instrumentals. And, as you say, I’ve always incorporated instrumentals in my albums. But there were just a few more of them this time that presented themselves that way. Playing with Jenny Scheinman might have had something to do with it. She’s a wonderful violinist, and several of those instrumentals emerged through those collaborations, just playing off of one another.

Paste: She’s great. Let me ask you a little more about Jenny. I wasn’t familiar with her work before this album, and I was really impressed. I know she’s worked with Bill Frisell in the past, and you’ve worked with Bill as well. Was he the connecting point for you?

Cockburn: Not directly. I think the first time we met was at a Mountain Stage concert. I was on the bill, and Jenny was playing with Rodney Crowell. So that’s the first time I saw her. The next time was in New York. I was dating a woman in Brooklyn, and we were passing by The Village Vanguard in Manhattan, and it turned out that Jenny’s name was on the marquee. So we listened again. And I really liked what she was doing. So just through that process—listening to this great jazz violinist, getting to know her a bit—we decided to collaborate on this album. She’ll be playing with me on this upcoming tour as well.

Paste: You’re known, for better or worse, as a very serious songwriter. Obviously, songs like “Call It Democracy” and “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” have contributed to that reputation. But on the new album you have a funny take on our busy lives (“Called Me Back”), and the line about the Nixon/Single Mom selling her memoirs in “Call Me Rose” made me laugh out loud. Is this a looser, more fun-loving Bruce Cockburn we’re seeing?

Cockburn: [laughs] Yeah, maybe. Maybe I got all that angry young man angst out of my system when I was an angry young man. But, you know, I’d like to think that I’ve always incorporated some humor in my music. Even some of the early albums from the ‘70s had songs like “The Blues Got the World by The Balls” and “Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse.” So I don’t think it’s necessarily anything new. And honestly, a lot of the angry, political stuff has already been said. The players change, but it’s still the same world, you know. So maybe this time I decided to take a little more lighthearted look at the darkness. But it wasn’t anything conscious on my part.

Paste: You noted in the press materials that you had anticipated that this album would be raw and electric. It turned out introspective and acoustic. Can you describe your songwriting process, and what might have prompted the changes from your original intentions?

Cockburn: I did think, initially, that maybe it was time to mix it up sonically. But there’s no formula here, and you just have to see where the songs take you. And we ended up with an acoustic, fairly introspective album that isn’t all that different from what I was doing in the 1970s. Some of it was just my physical and geographical surroundings. I was spending a lot of my time in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn, and there was just no opportunity to turn up the volume without incurring the wrath of the neighbors. You work with what you’ve got.

Paste: Two of the songs on the new album were written out of the experiences of your recent trip to Afghanistan. How did the trip to Afghanistan come about?

Cockburn: Well, it was just a short trip that happened three years ago. It only lasted a week. And it came about because of my brother. He’s an emergency room anaesthesiologist, and he signed up for a 6-month tour of duty with the Canadian army in Kandahar. He pestered on his end, and I pestered on my end, and eventually the army agreed to the visit. And I hate to say it, given the serious circumstances, but we had a lot of fun. But there were some serious moments, as well. The day we arrived in Afghanistan, at the staging area, we watched a plane come in bearing the coffins of two Canadian soldiers who had been killed. And we were privileged to witness what they called the Ramp ceremony. And, you know, there were recorded bagpipes, and prayers, and tears. It was difficult.

Regardless of how you view the conflict, or whatever your political views, it was very evident to me that these soldiers were doing the best they could do, making the best out of a place where they didn’t want to be. And that ceremony really helped to put it in perspective. You think, God, these kids could have been my kids. And the song “Each One Lost” came out of that. It was a good visit. It was hell. I’m glad I was there.

Paste: I’d like to ask you about a song that goes back 13 or 14 years now, a song from your album The Charity of Night. I want to ask you about “Strange Waters,” which is a song I come back to again and again, at least partly because of the startling imagery and the twist in the title. There’s a biblical reference there, as you know, but you take the imagery of one of the best-known Psalms and change it from “still waters” to “strange waters.” Can you comment about that song’s meaning to you, specifically in light of the spiritual imagery that you use?

Cockburn: Okay. Well, if you live a life where you’re trying to figure out what the existence of the divine means, and trying to live in accordance with that, my experience has been that you’re going to encounter a lot of beauty and a lot of weird shit. And that song was an attempt to come to grips with the weird shit. You’re right that it references the 23rd Psalm. But I hadn’t encountered still waters. I had encountered strange waters. And my take is that it’s going to continue to be strange. It’s funny that you brought that up. I hadn’t been singing that song, but I just recently started singing it again. Maybe it’s because I’m very aware of the strangeness these days.

Paste: Following up on that idea, during the course of your career, you’ve written time and time again about your travels to foreign  locations—Japan, Italy, Central America, Cambodia, and Afghanistan. It’s also evident that those travels have impacted your understanding of and appreciation for different cultures. And yet your early albums were marked by mysticism and introspection. I realize that these issues are never completely clear-cut and black and white, and they’re not in your music either, but was there a turning point in your life where you chose to shift the focus from a sort of inward isolation to a more outward engagement with the world? And if so, what brought about the change?

Cockburn: You’re correct that there was a turning point. It coincided with my divorce in the late ‘70s. You know, that just turned my world upside down. It was something I never expected, never thought would happen. And then it did. And I had to make some major adjustments. Up to that point I’d mostly been living in the country, living inside my head. And I realized then that introspection had gone as far as it was going to go. I needed to get involved with people. I needed to be where people were. So I moved to Toronto. And shortly after that I started getting involved with organizations where that travel became a way to get more connected. Of course, there’s a balance in all this, and I’ve never totally lost that introspective side. This new album was recorded at least partly because I realized that I needed to find that self-reflective mode again.

Paste: You’ve been at this for more than 40 years now. During that time, your music has obviously evolved and adapted. But how do you think you yourself have changed during that time? What parts of the guy who recorded High Winds, White Sky and Sunwheel Dance are still there? What parts have changed? What would the Bruce Cockburn of 1970 have to say to the Bruce Cockburn of 2011? What would the Bruce Cockburn of 2011 have to say to the Bruce Cockburn of 1970?

Cockburn: [laughs] There’s nothing like summarizing a life! Well, I think the Bruce Cockburn of 1970 would say, “Oh, my God, what are you doing?” And the Bruce Cockburn of 2011 would say “What an idiot!” You know that cliché about youth being wasted on the young? It’s true.

When I think back on it, the Bruce Cockburn of 1970 wasn’t very good at being with people. I didn’t communicate very well, and I didn’t understand others very well. But deep down I’m still the same person. I’d like to think that I’ve grown up. And so much of this is just living life, learning the lessons that are common to everyone who gets older. It’s still unfolding. I’m not done. I hope that I can learn to be more kind.


March 7, 2011
Bruce Cockburn Interview: Small Source of Comfort
by Matt Warnock

The following is an excerpt of a recent interview with Bruce (from Guitar International) conduct by Matt Warnock. My thanks to Matt for allowing me to post the excerpt here on Gavin's Woodpile. 

Matt: You mentioned earlier that there is a very old song on the new album, that would be “Gifts,” which was written in 1968. Why was the time finally right to record this song after having written it 43 years ago?

Bruce Cockburn: I haven’t sang that song in front of people for decades. When we did the first album, back at the end of the ‘60s I was singing that song in my shows. At the time, Bernie Finkelstein kept trying to get me to record the song, and I told him I was going to save it for the last album. After a while it just kind of disappeared. When we started to record this album I thought it’d be cool to bring back “Gifts” but not tell Bernie. I also felt that at this point you never know. 2012 is rolling around and I’m not getting any younger etc. etc. [Laughs] So maybe there will be another album or maybe there won’t. It’s not a prediction of any kind. I just thought it was time to get it on record.

Matt: What was Bernie’s reaction when he first heard it?

Bruce Cockburn: He heard all the other songs and then “Gifts” starts up, so he turns to me and says, “Is there something I should know?” [Laughs]

Matt: On your upcoming tour you’ve already sold out a handful of shows in the U.S. Being an iconic Canadian artist you have a strong following there, but have you always had this kind of popularity in the U.S. as well?

Bruce Cockburn: It’s slightly complex and goes up and down over time. The first real boost in people being aware of me in the U.S. was the 1984 album Stealing Fire . Then, when “If I had a Rocket Launcher” came out and was on the radio all over the place, my audience in the U.S. grew from there. We toured because all of a sudden that was feasible, and have gone back ever since. The audiences are smaller than in Canada depending on where I am in the country. Most of my audience is on the West Coast, the Northeast and the Four Corners area and it’s been strong over the years.

Photo: Kevin Kelly


March 6, 2011
Wildy's World

Bruce Cockburn – Small Source Of Comfort

by Wildy Haskell 

Bruce Cockburn has based his life on deep experience. Over the years, Cockburn has travelled to the world’s trouble points, to see the truths of human existence for himself. Cockburn has documented these experiences on thirty albums over the years, with a sense of subtlety and musicality that is rare in rock n roll. An Officer of the Order of Canada and a member of the Canadian Music Hall Of Fame, Bruce Cockburn’s music has been covered by such artists are Barenaked Ladies, Anne Murray, Ani DiFranco, Dan Fogelberg, Judy Collins and Jimmy Buffett. On March 8, 2011, Cockburn releases his 31st album, Small Source Of Comfort.

Small Source Of Comfort opens with “Iris Of The World”, commenting on the tendency of humanity to grab onto meaningless things while overlooking things that matter. Semi-autographical, the song finds Cockburn perhaps sharing his own role in the human play; recognizing the beauty of a moment and sharing it with others. This is classic Cockburn, finding the subtle depths of an experience and exposing them in a complex, highly rhythmic and oddly beautiful arrangement. “Call Me Rose” is a tongue in cheek story song about Richard Nixon reincarnated as a single mother of two kids living in the projects. It’s something of a Great Reversal concept (“the last will be first and the first will be last”) born of Judeo-Christian theology, but is very amusing and is written from a very human perspective. In Cockburn’s musical daydream Nixon sees himself for who he was and is a better person for it, even if he continues to long for the old days. Cockburn sticks to a fairly straight-forward folk-rock arrangement this time around in order to let the story shine through.

“Bohemian 3-Step” is a pretty instrumental that plays like a slow waltz, relying on cross-rhythms, or a variant, to create an intriguing sense of rhythm. The piece has great energy, and is beautifully crafted. “Radiance” is a musical meditation on beauty, both in lyrics and music. Cockburn impresses with unusually beautiful guitar work, capturing an abject loneliness in both his instrument and voice as he looks on from afar. The cello is a nice touch, completing the tragic displacement of the vocal line in dark and dulcet tones. This is a musical ‘wow’ moment; a song that’s both heart-breaking and uplifting in its beauty. “Five Fifty-One” is an edgy story song that plays on the edges of folk, rock and blues. The story here is a bit disjointed, a calculated effect given the state of mind of the story teller. The cops show up at his house in the wee hours of the morning and we’re never entirely certain why, but the overall impression is of someone who is dancing on the edge of madness. Cockburn creates a highly rhythmic arrangement that leaves ample room for acoustic guitar-driven sidebars that will make the most of the would-be guitarists out there wish they could play like that.

“Lois On The Autobahn” is an energetic instrumental that plays off Cockburn’s guitar against a dancing dervish of a violin, capturing a sound not dissimilar from that of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. “Boundless” is a spiritual exploration in song; exploring the similarities between the boundlessness of space and of belief. Cockburn creates an ethereal feel at the opening with a multitude of bells, but moves quickly into an urgent vocal line over (for Cockburn) a relatively simple arrangement. The imagery used here has many levels; delivered in poetic prose that is laced deep with references both cultural and theological. Wit takes over on “Called Me Back”, a humorous take on a call that never comes, and the resulting anxiety over what might have happened to a close friend. It’s an entertaining turn; a well-placed moment of levity that both highlights Cockburn’s depth as a songwriter and works in much the same fashion as a comic song placed in the middle of a big Broadway musical. 

“Comets Of Kandahar” is a dark instrumental that again pairs Cockburn’s guitar with violin; this time the result is dark with a disturbed energy. The composition itself is amazing, and was inspired by Cockburn’s trip to Afghanistan to play for Canadian troops in theater. “Each One Lost”, inspired by the same trip, is a somber tribute to those who have given their lives. The song is full of heartbreak and plays like a lonely hymn, punctuated by a lonely accordion. “Parnassus And The Fog” finds Cockburn’s guitar once again paired with violin in a lilting instrumental ballad that plays like a love song. “Ancestors” is a gorgeous, haunting instrumental full of staccato guitar against a dreamlike background of musical ether. The affect of the piece is subtle and compelling, as Cockburn builds a story into the rhythm of the song. Small Source Of Comfort closes with “Gifts”, a quiet celebration of the moments in life that illuminate an emotion, person or place and define meaning for us. It’s a gorgeous, quiet arrangement that whispers quietly to you about the truth of what’s important in the world.

Bruce Cockburn is a rare gem in the world of singers and songwriters. His depth and subtlety as both a musician and lyricist puts him in rarefied air. Small Source Of Comfort is an album that, if not at peace with the world around it, has certainly found the peace that comes with understanding hard truths. A decade or two ago Cockburn would have railed at government and political machines in a mad frenzy, driving the intricate beauty of his music into exile under the constant barrage of verbal artillery aimed at the injustices of the world. Small Source Of Comfort takes deadly aim at the same sort of social inconsistencies, but with a subtle grace and veracity that cuts far deeper that some of his past efforts. Where a younger Bruce Cockburn would have imbued his message with the power of righteous indignation, the songwriter now allows the simple power of truth to blend with the intricate beauty of his musical creations to reach beyond the defenses of even the most politically hardened psyche. Small Source Of Comfort stands amongst Cockburn’s finest works, and is a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

Editor's note: My thanks to Wildy for the use of this review.


March 6, 2011
The Canadian Press - Online Edition

Cockburn considered making a noise record but stuck with folk after all

by Nick Patch

TORONTO - When Bruce Cockburn first began crafting his 30th record, he planned to embark on a pretty radical departure.

The 11-time Juno Award winner decided he would temporarily leave his signature literate, intricate folk-rock in the dust and embark on an entirely unfamiliar road.

"I had this notion that I wanted to do something different — after 29 albums of songs, at that point, it was time to do something else," the 65-year-old Cockburn said in a telephone interview from San Francisco.

What, exactly, did he have in mind?

"In the beginning, when I wasn't really myself yet, I played in rock bands. And I missed the noise sometimes. I missed the power of volume. And I just had this idea that something very improvisational and loud was in order, kind of thinking like Sunn O))) meets Norwegian death metal — but with sensible lyrics," he said.

"I've never allowed myself to improvise much ... yet I love improvised music. So this was part of the thinking there too, not just volume, but also the freedom of that.

"But what happened, of course, was I ended up spending a lot of time with my girlfriend, as people do, in little apartments, where you can't just crank your amps and have your neighbours not lynch you. So the songs that came out just all went in the direction of an acoustic guitar, pretty much."

Yet while he's steered back to familiar terrain, the tunes that comprise "Small Source of Comfort" do not represent a compromise for the Ottawa folkie.

In fact, he laboured over some of these songs for ages, with the nearly five-year gap between albums ranking among the longest breaks in Cockburn's career.

As he often does, he found inspiration on the road.

Songs including "Boundless," "Five Fifty-One" and "The Iris of the World" not only incorporate travel imagery into Cockburn's thoughtful-as-always lyrics, but also bounce, roll and churn forward with an ambling rhythm that really does call to mind the expanse of the open road.

"The album was very affected by long-distance driving," said Cockburn, who found himself regularly shuffling between Kingston, Ont., and Brooklyn, N.Y., where his girlfriend lived before moving to San Francisco.

"That's probably the single biggest theme that shows up in the lyrics.

"This album, to me, has very much a highway feel. I mean, even the instrumentals — 'Lois on the Autobahn' got called that because everyone who heard it, including those of us who played it, (thought) it just felt like driving, like we were on the road somewhere."

Two other songs, meanwhile, were inspired by Cockburn's travels much farther afield.

In September 2009, he ventured to a Canadian military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Cockburn, whose brother joined the Army as a doctor three years ago, had been to war zones before but never surrounded by Canadian troops. His journey inspired two songs: "The Comets Of Kandahar," written about the sight of jet fighters taking flight after dark, and "Each One Lost."

The latter tune was penned early on in Cockburn's trip, during a stop at Camp Mirage, a Canadian Forces base in Dubai. Cockburn's brief stopover happened to occur the same day that Canadian soldiers Maj. Yannick Pepin and Cpl. Jean-Francois Drouin were killed by a roadside bomb.

As a result, he was witness to the ramp ceremony for the fallen soldiers. Unsurprisingly, he was incredibly moved by the sad scene unfolding and wrote the song in the soldiers' memory (in its chorus, he sings: "Each one lost/ Is everyone's loss, you see/ Each one lost is a vital part of you and me."

"It was a very, very poignant experience for me," he said. "I felt honoured to be part of it, but more than anything, I just felt the incredible sadness of the loss of these guys.

"It was sombreness, that's the feeling that was in the air. It was very moving."

Part of the reason these trips are so important to Cockburn is that, as his career continues, it grows increasingly difficult to discover new sources of inspiration.

"The older I get, and the more stuff I've done, the harder it is to come up with something new. There's sort of an inevitable slowing down that happens over time," he said.

"I might get an idea then realize that it's way too similar to something I did 20 years ago, or whatever. And I don't like the idea of repeating myself like that, or falling into the trap that a lot of artists have done over the years of getting stuck in what seems to work.

"I feel like part of my process is I have to be looking for some expansion of what I'm doing, or some development of what I'm doing, otherwise it doesn't feel like I'm doing anything."

So, with that spirit of adventure in mind, will he crank up the distortion on his amp and revisit that noise-rock record?

"I wouldn't say no, but at this point, it's hard to know. It depends on where I find myself a year or two from now, when this album's run its course, and we've done all the touring and everything, and it's time to look at what's going to happen next," he said.

"It may be more of the same kind of thing or it may be something else. It depends on the opportunities that present themselves at that time."


March 3, 2011
Premier Guitar

Interview: Bruce Cockburn - Small Source of Comfort
by Adam Perlmutter

Bruce Cockburn might not be a household name among guitarists, but not for any good reason. Very few players are as prolific and wide-ranging as Cockburn, whose 31 studio albums draw equally from early rock ’n’ roll and country, from free jazz and ethnic music.

Cockburn, 66, got started in the late 1950s in Ottawa, Canada, playing Elvis Presley songs on a junky old acoustic before delving into jazz. After high school, in the mid-’60s Cockburn headed to Boston, where he broadened his horizons, both musically and culturally, while studying at the Berklee College of Music.

After Berklee, Cockburn headed back to Canada, where he revisited his roots in various rock groups. By 1970, when he released a self-titled debut, Cockburn had emerged as an acoustic singer-songwriter with a surefooted fingerstyle technique.

Since then, Cockburn has evolved as both a solo artist and bandleader, and his songbook has grown to include hundreds of finely crafted songs and instrumentals. At the same time, his humanitarian work has taken him to impoverished areas and war zones all around the globe—experiences that have filtered into his music in a highly exciting way.

In 2009, Cockburn visited war-torn Afghanistan, and that trip inspired a song and an instrumental on his latest effort, Small Source  of Comfort. The album is packed with plenty to offer guitar fans of all stripes—deftly fingerpicked passages in alternate tunings, improvised interplay, all kinds of fancy chords, and more.

So many burgeoning guitarists today have inexpensive but high-quality instruments, as well as instant access to lessons in all styles on the Web. How were things when you first got started, in the late 1950s?

The first guitar I had was a no-name six-string that I found in my grandmother’s closet. It had been set up as a Hawaiian guitar with this extra-high nut. I was interested in playing Elvis and other rock ’n’ roll–type stuff, so I took the guitar, painted gold stars on the top, and starting banging away. Thankfully my parents expressed their nervousness by insisting that I take lessons and learn to play guitar properly—and that if I wanted to play guitar I couldn’t get a leather jacket and grow sideburns. The good thing is that I got the guitar lessons and went on from there.

What did you learn in those early lessons?

The guitar lessons that I took broadened my horizons vastly. I started out just learning rudimentary rock and country songs by ear,  but then my teacher introduced me to players like Les Paul and Chet Atkins, with their more sophisticated approaches to the instrument. These influences eventually led me to jazz.

As you gathered musical knowledge, what kind of instruments did you play?

My first serious guitar was a Kay archtop, which I traded in for a Gibson ES-345. It was the stereo model, which seemed like a strange gimmick—the top three strings were supposed to come out of one amp and the bottom three out of another. After that, I had a jazz box—a twin-pickup ES-175—for a long time.

As for acoustics, I had a no-name classical for a while but I didn’t really like it—the nylon strings didn’t offer enough resistance for the kind of fingerpicking I wanted to do. So I got a Martin OO-18 and ended up using it on my first several albums. That guitar is actually still around. At one point I gave it to my then-wife, and in turn she gave it to a friend of ours, who still has it.

When did you first get into jazz, which has obviously had a big influence on your writing and playing?

I started listening to jazz in the early 1960s and learning all about it through buying copies of DownBeat magazine when I was in high school. I would read about guitar players like Wes Montgomery, then go out and buy all the albums of his that I could afford. Through the drummer Chico Hamilton I got into the Hungarian-born guitarist Gábor Szabó, who brought a kind of odd Eastern European sound to jazz. Hamilton was primarily playing compositions by [saxophonist] Charles Lloyd—music that was quite fresh and captivating.

After high school you went to the Berklee College of Music. What was it like there in the 1960s?

Ottawa was a nice pace to grow up but it was very one-dimensional; I rarely, for instance, encountered black people there. In contrast, Boston was such a culturally fertile place, and the mid-’60s was a great time to be there.

What were you like as a player at that time?

Pretty crappy [laughs]. I knew more than some of my friends at Berklee because I had taken those lessons early on and been introduced to more sophisticated ways of approaching the guitar than found in rock ’n’ roll, but I didn’t really have a style of my own. I was being pulled in many different directions and was not so good at any of them.

Talk about those directions.

For one, I was starting to listen to music of other cultures, in particular Indian musicians like [sitar player] Ravi Shankar and [sarod player] Ali Akbar Khan. Some of my more adventurous peers and I got into playing free jazz—we were heavily influenced by saxophonists like Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman. Of course the teachers were horrified by this music that had no rules, so we’d play our free improvisations on Saturday afternoons, then do more traditional stuff during the week. At the same time, I was in an old-fashioned jug band in which we played whatever tunes we felt like.

Did you stay at Berklee for four years?

No. While I certainly learned a lot in Boston, after two years I realized that it wasn’t really for me and that I was just spending too much of my parents’ money.

Why is that?

In general, there were too many orthodox musicians who were all about having flashy chops and playing in the styles of guitarists like Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. They were certainly great players, but I didn’t feel the need to rehash older styles. I was interested in moving toward new sounds and combining different influences like Szabó was doing, and at a certain point I just wasn’t learning anything new at school.

When did you get into songwriting?

It happened that some friends of mine in the Ottawa folk scene were in a band called the Children, so I joined up with them right after I dropped out of Berklee. That’s when I started writing songs—at first just music for other people’s lyrics, sometimes with more success than other times.

After a while, I encountered Bill Hawkins, a poet who was deeply central to the Ottawa scene, and he became a type of mentor, encouraging me to write lyrics of my own beginning around ’66. In playing with and writing for various rootsy bands in the late ’60s I developed my own little core of songs. After a while, I decided that it’d just be more fun to strike out on my own and have worked as a solo artist or bandleader ever since around the time my first album was released.

Fast-forwarding to the present, your latest record, Small Source of Comfort, seems to be filled with alternate tunings. Can you tell us about some?

In the past, I never really used DADGAD like so many other players have done, but in the last couple of years I have been experimenting with it. A lot of the album is in that tuning or in what I call “Egad”—just like it sounds, similar to DADGAD, but with the sixth string tuned to E, as on “The Iris of the World.” I play “Parnassus and Fog ” in a tuning that a call drop-F-sharp, in which the G string is tuned down a half step, to F-sharp. With these tunings, I get all kinds of nice ringing possibilities that help me approach the guitar differently. There are actually only a couple tunes on the record in standard—“Driving Away” and “Ancestors.”

What sort of guitars did you play on the record?

I have three guitars made by Linda Manzer—a 12-string and two six-strings. I also have a little solidbody electric charango that she made for me. It doesn’t appear on the record, but I play it sometimes at shows. And I’ve got a 1959 Martin D-18, which you can hear on “Bohemian 3-Step.”

Were the Manzers made specifically for you?

They’re custom. I commissioned one of the six-strings from Linda back in the 1980s. The other was one she made around the same time for someone who wanted one like mine. Both are cutaways, the original one has a cedar top and other one has spruce. The 12-string was made for yet another guitarist around the same time as the other two, but I didn’t get a hold of it until much later, about five or six years ago.

Tell us about the baritone guitar that you used.

That was made by a guy named Tony Karol from Toronto. I acquired it when we were doing the last studio album, Life Short Call Now. He had left it in the studio for me to try and I ended up using it on the record. You can hear it on “Lois on the Autobahn” and on “Gifts.” It’s tuned a fourth lower than a standard guitar, so when I play an open C chord it sounds as a G. On “Gifts,” along with the baritone I play a regular six-string with a capo way up the neck, so that I can also play a C fingering in the key of G. The music  sounds more interesting that way.

In your writing, does the tuning inspire the song, or is it the other way around?

In the case of an instrumental piece like “Lois on the Autobahn,” the tuning influences the composition. In the end, a piece like that  is a composite of different ideas that have come from fooling around in the tuning. But sometimes I’ll start a new song with the words, and find something to capture the feel of the lyrics. Certain words sometimes seem to want certain tunings.

The record is also filled with clever arrangements featuring the violinist Jenny Scheinman and others. Did you compose specific parts for the musicians, or was it more of a collaborative affair?

It was very collaborative. I wrote fixed guitar parts into the songs, in many pieces just strummed chords, so everybody had to work  around those. My general approach is just to let people play along with my music. I tend to work with high caliber musicians who come up with great ideas, but if I don’t like what someone’s playing, I’ll just nudge things in another direction. In other words, I usually function more as an editor than an arranger.

Even when you record with a band you often perform solo. Is that a consideration you factor into your songwriting?

I wrote all my songs so that they can be played solo. At the same time, I try to leave a little space for musicians who might join me  in playing the songs. For instance, when I was writing some of the songs for Small Source of Comfort, I had Jenny [Scheinman]’s sound in mind. She’s got such a brilliant musical mind and we have a great chemistry together. I also wrote some songs that would work on their own or with Annabelle Chvostek, a Canadian singer-songwriter who joined in on the writing and on vocals, guitar, and mandolin.

A number of your songs are inspired by your travels and your humanitarian work.

Through the auspices of various organizations, I’ve been to troubled areas around the world. It’s so much different to see an impoverished country or a war zone up close than to watch at a comfortable distance on the television.

I don’t feel like I’m doing the real work, but through my songs I can bring attention to these issues, hopefully helping to make the world a better place—or at least keep it from getting worse so fast. One of the most obvious examples of this type of song is “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” inspired by my first encounter with the third world, at some Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico.

Of course, I don’t go into these situations looking for songs—that would just be inappropriate. But I’m always happy when an experience draws a song or instrumental out of me.

How have your travels influenced Small Source of Comfort?

My travels don’t show up too much on this album, except on the song “Each One Lost” and the instrumental “Ancestors,” which I wrote following a trip to Kandahar, Afganistan under the auspices of the Canadian army. I witnessed a ceremony there honoring the sacrifices of two soldiers who had been killed and whose bodies were being flown back to Canada.

I felt I had to give listeners an impression of what that felt like, so I went home and wrote “Each One Lost,” the first half of which is in my perspective and the second half in that of a soldier. It was a very deep and emotional experience—one of the saddest things I’ve ever had the privilege to witness, and I wanted to let listeners know how it felt.

Bruce Cockburn’s Gearbox

Two custom Linda Manzer six-strings with cutaways, Manzer 12-string, Manzer solidbody electric charango, 1959 Martin D-18, Tony Karol baritone

Fishman Prefix Pro preamps, Acoustic Matrix pickups, Audio-Technica internal mics

Boss DD-5 delay and TR-2 tremolo, Line 6 MM4 and DL4

Martin Marquis M2100 (6-string), D’Addario EJ38 (12-string)

Kyser Quick Change


March 1, 2011
Canadian Press

Bruce Cockburn fields requests for 'Franklin' theme song at concerts

TORONTO - Franklin the turtle isn't just a hit with kids.

Folk singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, who scored the theme music for the "Franklin" animated TV series, says adults seem to get a kick out of the gentle green reptile as well.

"I get requests at shows for Franklin (the theme song)," says Cockburn.

"It's interesting, because half the audience will be hollering 'Franklin, yeah, yeah, Franklin!' and the other half is looking at them quizzically going, 'What are you talking about?' If you don't have kids in that age group, you don't know that cartoon show."

Cockburn did the opening and closing theme music for the original "Franklin" TV series that was in production from 1997 until 2003. He has also reworked the tune with some new lyrics and sounds for the Canadian CGI-animated series "Franklin and Friends" that debuts Friday on Treehouse.

The shows are based on the "Franklin" preschool series of books by author Paulette Bourgeois and illustrator Brenda Clark.

Cockburn says the first time he did the theme music, he'd never scored for an animated show and he was taken aback by "the minutiae of a one-verse song."

"It felt a lot like doing a commercial, like writing a jingle or something because there was so much involvement, let's say from the administrative side of things, you know, like: 'Well, we can't have this word and we can't have that word.'

"The second time around, being forewarned of how that world works, it was a lot more relaxed," he says.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the book that started the franchise, "Franklin in the Dark."

To celebrate the milestone, Kids Can Press, Nelvana Studio and Treehouse have released a special edition of the book as well as 12 other classic Franklin stories.

— With files from Nick Patch.


March 1, 2011
True North Records

Bruce Cockburn - Small Source Of ComfortBruce Cockburn's brand new album Small Source Of Comfort is being released worldwide on March 8th, and True North Records is pleased to announce that the first 200 people who pre-order the CD from the True North online store will receive an autographed copy! Customers who have already pre-ordered the CD, will be sent an autographed insert.

With a career that has spanned four decades, producing an acclaimed body of work, Bruce Cockburn continues to be revered by fans and fellow musicians alike as one of the most important songwriters of his generation. Don't miss Bruce on tour this spring across North America. Pre-order your copy HERE. 


February 21, 2011
Small Source of Comfort

Review by Richard Hoare
for Gavin’s Woodpile

Artist: Bruce Cockburn
Title: Small Source Of Comfort
Label: True North Records
Promotional CD: WM#232
Producer: Colin Linden Recorded and mixed by John Whynot
Recorded predominantly at The Bathouse, Bath, Ontario
Mixed at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California
Running Time: 53mins 40secs
Released; 8th March 2011

The last Cockburn studio album, Life Short Call Now, was released in mid 2006. Since that time the following have occurred amongst others:-

• 2006 - True North released the iTunes only track Twilight on the Champlain Sea later that year.
• 2006/2007 - Bruce toured on the back of Life Short Call Now.
• 2007 - Cockburn took another trip to Nepal.
• 2008 April - Annabelle Chvostek CD Resilence released. It includes the first version of Driving Away co-written with Bruce.
• 2008 - The Bruce Cockburn concert dates in May on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. were recorded for future release.
• 2009 January - Celia Shacklett CD, Transformateurs, released. Cockburn contributed a co-write and plays on another track.
• 2009 - Bruce contributed a cover of Honey Babe Let The Deal Go Down on Things About Comin’ My Way - A Tribute to the music of The Mississippi Sheiks.
• 2009 - The first live Cockburn solo album entitled, Slice O Life, featuring material form the 2008 dates was released as a double CD. It included the new Bruce song, The City Is Hungry.
• 2009 September - Bruce visited the Canadian base in Afghanistan.
• 2010 June - Cockburn recorded Small Source of Comfort in Canada.

Cockburn has assembled the following core backing musicians for the album - Gary Craig on drums, John Dymond on bass and Jenny Schienman on violin. Augmenting those performers are Colin Linden, Annabelle Chevostek, Tim Lauer and Celia Shaklett. Schienman is best known for her work with Bill Frisell and Norah Jones. Before this album Jenny worked with Bruce on an aborted Hollywood film score. This album’s signature sound is provided to a large extent by the sound of Jenny’s violin and varied percussion played by Gary and Bruce. There are fourteen tracks comprising an unusual format for Bruce of nine songs and five instrumentals.

1. The Iris Of The World (3.23) The start of the album flies out of the traps with Bruce on ebullient acoustic guitar with the vision of the world passing through his windshield. It’s a road song about Cockburn traveling between Kingston Ontario and Brooklyn New York to see his partner. The lyrics switch between observations on the route and Bruce mulling over his feelings for his girlfriend. The driving rhythm takes musical elements from Cockburn’s song Postcards From Cambodia.

2. Call Me Rose (3.18) The song is written from the point of view of disgraced former US president Richard Nixon, who receives a chance of redemption after being reincarnated as a single mother living in a housing project with two children. This track is the first single released from the album. It’s a full band sound including the playing of Colin Linden and the harmonies of Celia Shacklett. Cockburn has commented that he woke up one morning with the song fully formed. It is an unusual lyrical stance for Bruce who usually writes in the first person. It’s a wry take on the subject of one of the Bush administration’s efforts to rehabilitate Nixon’s image. There is a photograph in a 1970 issue of Life magazine with the following caption “Alone in a wicker chair in the White House Rose Garden, President Nixon prepares his speech on Cambodia”. The Cambodian adventure was quickly tagged “Nixon’s gamble”. Nixon has provided the subject matter for songs by a variety of artist including Postcards from Richard Nixon by Elton John, The Love Of Richard Nixon by The Manic Street Preachers and Ohio (performed by CSNY) and Campaigner by Neil Young. Campaigner includes the refrain “Where even Richard Nixon has got soul”.

3. Bohemian 3-Step (4.08) This is a beautiful acoustic guitar instrumental which has a wonderful descending chord pattern. Half way through Bruce takes off on the fret board before returning to the theme. All the time Gary keeps time back in the mix with a spare snapping sound on the drums. Cockburn credits the musical influence of the piece to Jenny Scheinman.

4. Radiance (4.15) Musically the track uses the stately seductive walking gate that formed the structure of Bruce’s song The Charity Of Night. This feeling is accentuated by Jenny on violin and the Tim Lauer on accordion. Cockburn read an interview with Jungian psychologist Marion Woodman in which she made reference to the Divine Feminine representing the radiance which pervades the cosmos. Driving at sunset kick started the writing process.

5. Five Fifty-One (3.35) Musically Cockburn uses the strident elements of All Our Dark Tomorrows to propel this paean to Brooklyn’s pumping urban dawn – where Bruce has spent time. The track comprises the twin guitars of Bruce and Colin backed by Gary’s drums and rattles. An urban blues accentuated by Cockburn’s harmonica. The phrase “small source of comfort” appears in the lyrics.

6. Driving Away (4.36) Bruce wrote this with Annabelle Chvostek who had a lot of the lyrics and the music for the verses already. Annabelle plays guitar and sings on the track. Musically the song seems to employ the style of Bruce’s song Don’t Forget About Delight. The lyric embraces the traveling theme of the album.

7. Lois On The Autobahn (4.46) This instrumental comprises flowing acoustic guitar and violin with hand drum accompaniment. The main theme provides a platform for first Bruce then Jenny to solo. It was inspired by a piece of Jenny’s and is for Bruce’s late mother. Lois would have been proud, a spiritual journey to the afterlife.

8. Boundless (4.46) Written by Annabelle and Bruce but this time Cockburn had much of the verbiage in bits and pieces. Book ended by Cockburn playing chimes this is one of the best complete songs and performances on the record. Relentless vocals by Bruce and Annabelle who plays great mandolin are complemented by wonderful violin and drums. The road to eternity again.

9. Called Me Back (2.42) The violin is high in the mix on this song which takes its structure from Mystery, the list lyric style from Anything Can Happen and the overall subject from the track Life Short Call Now. The despair of the latter song is traded for humor in this one.

10. Comets of Kandahar (4.50) This is the first of two tracks that emanate from the Afghanistan trip. Bruce has described this instrumental as Django Reinhardt meets John Lee Hooker. It certainly is a great raucous drum heavy duel of guitar and violin. The comets are the glowing jet fighter exhausts at night.

11. Each One Lost (4.00) Bruce’s experience of a ramp ceremony resulted in this song for the fallen. Cockburn expands it to universal loss. A song to add to Bruce’s small but perfectly formed collection of hymns.

12. Parnassus And Fog (3.30) Parnassus is a street in San Francisco, a city where Bruce has spent time. The violin is dominant and the tune sounds like a floating oriental cloud. This sedate instrumental conjures up the stillness one finds in fog and also for me the disorientation one feels following the death of a loved one.

13. Ancestors (4.00) The pensive guitar picking, reverb and percussion evoke the title of this instrumental. The chimes and singing bowls are beautiful. In 1968 Steve Miller wrote Song For Our Ancestors on his album, Sailor. The first section of that song is the foghorns of San Francisco Bay.

14. Gifts (1.58) Bruce wrote this short piece in 1968 and he would finish shows with it around that time. BC: “Never seemed right to record it till now.” It still stands up forty odd years later.

This is Cockburn’s 31st studio album and some how once again Bruce makes a different work. There is a wonderful lightness of touch to the songs and instrumentals. Bruce is still out there on the musical edge creating new work.

Photos by D. Keebler: Recording sessions at the Bathouse in Bath, Ontario, June, 2010. Re-use of the contents of this review by permission.


February 21, 2011

Manzer Six String Cutaway Custom And Bruce Cockburn
by Patrick Ogle

Bruce Cockburn has been making music for over 40 years. He plays a sort of thoughtful folk-pop that defies time and one of the guitars he uses is a Manzer Custom Six String Cutaway. Linda Manzer is a luthier based in Toronto. Manzer has been making guitars for 30 years and has made instruments for Pat Metheny, Carlos Santana, Gordon Lightfoot and many others.

“It was custom made for me and I don’t know if it corresponds to one of her regular models. It is a six string cutaway with a cedar top and rosewood back and sides. I think it is Brazilian but it might be Indian.” says Cockburn. “It is a little deeper than the standard depth which gives it more bottom end. It shows the wear but it sounds great.”

This instrument was made in the late 80s.

When Cockburn is looking for a guitar the tone of the guitar obviously matters but as important is how he plays.

“I am a finger picker but I don’t use finger picks. I like a big bottom end because my thumb does a lot of the work. I like top end to sing, by that I mean I want a certain response and sustain,” he says.” When you get a guitar brand new—especially a custom, it goes through changes—it takes a few months to settle down. Now it is aged and beautiful.”

Not everyone loves this guitar the best.

“My sound guy prefers the other one because he has to roll the bottom end off this one. But when you hear it acoustically?” says Cockburn.

Cockburn says that, when in the studio, he relies on whoever is producing to pick and place microphones on the guitar. He says he isn’t overly knowledgeable about mics (adding that he has, obviously, over the years learned a bit!). Generally speaking, they record using the guitar’s Fishman Prefix Pro pickup, the guitar’s internal microphone (an Audio Technnica) and two external mics. And then mix the tracks based on which sounds best, best captures the sound the producer and Cockburn want on a given song.

Sometimes there have been variations on this theme.

“When we did the live album in 79 the producer brought 4 or 5 different mics and set them up,” he says. “When we miced it we used whichever sounded best, or mixed them together.”

The early 70s albums have two 57s in front.

Cockburn notes that, when he started playing, acoustic guitars didn’t have pickups.

“Basically you played in front of a mic, which limited your stage movement significantly,” he says.

No wonder Bob Dylan went electric.

Cockburn thinks musicians, and to some extend sound engineers have been spoiled by pickups. Both players and sound people have gotten so used to pickups that micing guitars from the stage is a little bit of a dying art. It isn’t that Cockburn doesn’t see the upside though or lament this too much.

“It is hard for me to hold a guitar right in the sweet spot. It is too distracting to think of where the mic is,” he says. “But it sounded pretty good when you got it right. You’d hear one mic more than another but when they put it together you got more of the sound of an acoustic.”

Live Cockburn runs the pick up through effects, splits it into stereo. The mic goers right to the board.

“I don’t need to hear it (the mic) in the monitors,” says Cockburn. “You get atmospheric quality only a mike will give and it makes it more like how an acoustic sounds. Mic on its own too much bottom and it will squeal.”

Cockburn’s current tour started in Western Canada and headed east. In May/June he will be in New York.

“The venues are mostly theaters, one or two clubs, generally larger in Canada than the states. Parts of the states where I have had fans the longest are larger,” he says. “You take pot luck, depending on what venue is available and whose size is appropriate.”

He plays in venues ranging from Toronto’s Massey Hall and its 2700 capacity to the much more intimate Chicago Old Town School of Folk Music venue.

His new record, Small Source of Comfort, comes out March 8. Songs on the record were inspired by Cockburn’s recent trip to Afghanistan to visit Canadian troops.

“At my age they feel like they (the soldiers) my kids,” he says. “I think of young men losing their lives and want to let them know there is not an ‘us vs them’ mentality between the public and them.”

His brother had been a doctor for years. He joined the army 3 years ago and did a 6 month tour in Afghanistan. He worked on the Canadian army from one end and his brother from the inside and it all came together.

“I wanted to go, felt it was meant to be.” says Cockburn.

Bruce Cockburn will be out on the road supporting the new record through June, 2011.


February 16, 2011
Email from Bernie Finkelstein

Re: CD Promotional Tour

Hi Daniel,

Yes Bruce will be in New York on Feb 21 doing WFUV radio in mid-morning. Not sure if it will be aired live or taped for future broadcast.

He'll also be in New York on Feb 22 doing other interviews however, at this point they are not public events.

On Feb 23 he'll be in Philadelphia doing World Cafe at or around 11 AM. They do it a WXPN Radio. He'll also be on WXPN at around 4 PM. Again not sure if it will be taped or run live.

On Feb 24 he'll be taping a special for SiriusXM's The Loft and also doing NPR's Weekend Edition but I can't tell you at this time when the shows will be aired as we don't have air dates yet.

Also on March 21 he'll be in Toronto taping the George Stroumboulopoulos show for CBC TV. This will be done at around 4 PM at CBC Television. No information on whether there is an audience or not.

In the meantime he's on the phone doing interviews for all kinds of media. 

There is a lot of interest in this album. 

It's looking good.

Editor's Note: Bruce also has projects in the works for the following print media: Magnet Magazine, Paste, Huffington Post and PopMatters.


February 2, 2011
I talked with Bernie about the song, Gifts.

It was really a great surprise when we got to that song in the playback of the album. It was quite moving for me. It immediately led me to go “Whoa. Okay, Bruce, why are you putting this out?” His answer was not unlike the answer he gave you, which is, you reach that point where you never know.” He’s always liked that song. But I think the emphasis was on the “You never know,” as opposed to “I know this is the last record.”


June 2010, Bath, Ontario
Recording sessions for Small Source of Comfort 

Bruce was planning to record a song for the new album but this was to be kept secret as he wanted to surprise Bernie Finkelstein. Bernie would learn of the song at a later date during a playback of the album in San Francisco. What was the secrecy behind this song? While sitting in the control room of the studio with Jenny Scheinman and me, he said he had written the song, Gifts, prior to  his first release in 1970, titled Bruce Cockburn. Bernie had suggested he record the song for that first album. Bruce told him he would rather record it for his last album. Was this to be the last album? You never know.


Silver rain sings dancing rhyme
Sunlight on blue water
Rocky shore grown soft with moss
Catches all our laughter
Then sends it back without its edge
To strengthen us anew
That we may walk within these walls
And share our gifts with you 

Bruce Cockburn
Toronto - March 15, 1968


January 17, 2011
from Finkelstein Management

Bruce Cockburn Announces Major North American Tour 

Celebrated Canadian recording artist Bruce Cockburn will be supporting the release of his 31st studio album Small Source of Comfort on True North Records with an extensive North American tour that kicks off March 24 in Kelowna, British Columbia and ends June 4 in Seattle, Washington. Cockburn will be accompanied on this tour by violinist Jenny Scheinman and percussionist Gary Craig who are both prominently featured on the new album. At this time, his shows in Chicago, Illinois and Annapolis, Maryland have sold out and a second New York City date has been added by popular demand. 

Small Source of Comfort is an adventurous collection of songs of romance, protest and spiritual discovery. The album, primarily acoustic yet rhythmically savvy, is rich in Cockburn’s characteristic blend of folk, blues, jazz and rock. As usual, many of the new compositions come from his travels and spending time in places like San Francisco and Brooklyn to the Canadian Forces base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, jotting down his typically detailed observations about the human experience. 

Bruce Cockburn has always been a restless spirit. Over the course of four decades, the celebrated Canadian artist has travelled to the corners of the earth out of humanitarian concerns—often to trouble spots experiencing events that have led to some of his most memorable songs. Going up against chaos, even if it involves grave risks, can be necessary to get closer to the truth. 

“My mother once said that I must have a death wish, always going to what she called ‘those awful places,’” laughs Cockburn. “I don’t think of it that way. I make these trips partly because I want to see things for myself and partly out of my own sense of adventure.” 

“Each One Lost” and “Comets of Kandahar,” one of five instrumentals on the album, stem from a trip Cockburn made to war-torn Afghanistan in 2009. The elegiac “Each One Lost” was written after Cockburn witnessed a ceremony honouring two young Canadian Forces soldiers who had been killed that day and whose coffins were being flown back to Canada. It was, recalls Cockburn, “one of the saddest and most moving scenes I’ve been privileged to witness.” 

“Here come the dead boys, moving slowly past the pipes and prayers and strained commanding voices,” Cockburn sings solemnly on “Each One Lost.” Over a mournful accordion, the simple chorus sums up the gravity of the hymn-like song: “each one lost is a vital part of you and me.” 

In contrast, one light-hearted number reflects Cockburn’s frequently under-appreciated sense of humour. “Called Me Back” is a comic reflection on the frustrations of waiting for a return phone call that never comes. Meanwhile, listeners are bound to be intrigued by “Call Me Rose,” written from the point of view of disgraced former U.S. president Richard Nixon, who receives a chance at redemption after being reincarnated as a single mother living in a housing project with two children.

Brooklyn-based violinist Jenny Scheinman is one of Bruce’s two female collaborators on Small Source of Comfort. Scheinman, best known for her work with Bill Frisell and Norah Jones, provides some thrilling flourishes to instrumentals like “Lois on the Autobahn” and the bluesy, gypsy-like swing of “Comets of Kandahar,” a track that Cockburn describes as “Django meets John Lee Hooker.” 

Produced by longtime associate Colin Linden, the album also features Annabelle Chvostek, a Montreal-based singer-songwriter with whom Cockburn wrote two songs on which they also harmonize: the introspective “Driving Away” and the driving, freewheeling “Boundless.” In addition to newcomers Scheinman and Chvostek, Small Source of Comfort includes such regular Cockburn accompanists as bassist Jon Dymond, drummer Gary Craig and producer Linden, who also plays guitar. 

As always, there’s a spiritual side to Cockburn’s latest collection, best reflected on the closing “Gifts,” a song written in 1968 and but recorded here for the first time, and “The Iris of the World,” which opens the album. The latter includes the humorously rueful line, “I’m good at catching rainbows, not so good at catching trout.” 

That admission serves as a useful metaphor for Cockburn’s approach to songwriting. “As you go through life, it’s like taking a hike alongside a river,” he explains. “Your eye catches little things that flash in the water, various stones and flotsam. I’m a bit of a packrat when it comes to saving these reflections. And, occasionally, a few of them make their way into songs.”

Those songs, along with his humanitarian work, have brought Cockburn a long list of honours, including 13 Juno Awards, an induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award and several international awards. In 1982, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Officer in 2002. 

Never content to rest on his laurels, Cockburn keeps looking ahead. “I’d rather think about what I’m going to do next,” he once said. “My models for graceful aging are guys like John Lee Hooker and Mississippi John Hurt, who never stopped working till they dropped, as I fully expect to be doing, and just getting better as musicians and as human beings.” Small Source of Comfort, a reflection of Cockburn’s ever-expanding world of wonders, is the latest step in his creative evolution.


January 17, 2010

Cockburn Brings ‘Small Source Of Comfort’
by Jay Smith

Canadian artist Bruce Cockburn returns to the road in March in support of his 31st studio album, Small Source Of Comfort.

As with many of Cockburn’s songs, the inspirations for tracks on Small Source Of Comfort stem from the singer / songwriter’s recent journeys when his wanderlust covered opposite ends of the spectrum with visits to San Francisco and Brooklyn as well as war-torn Afghanistan where he spent time at the Canadian Forces base in Kandahar.

“My mother once said that I must have a death wish, always going to what she called ‘those awful places,” Cockburn said while announcing his tour. “I don’t think of it that way. I make these trips partly because I want to see things for myself and partly out of my own sense of adventure.”

The tour begins with several Canadian dates beginning March 24 in Kelowna, B.C., at the Community Theatre. Other Canada shows include March 25 in Vancouver at Chan Centre For The Performing Arts, March 30 in Calgary at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, April 1 in Edmonton at the Winspear Theatre; April 5 in Winnipeg at the Burton Cummings theatre, April 9 at Toronto’s Massey Hall and two nights in Montreal at the L’Astral April 13-14.

The U.S. portion of the tour begins with two nights in New York City at City Winery May 3-4 followed by a May 5 gig in Annapolis at Rams Head On Stage and May 6 in Philadelphia (Glenside) at the Keswick Theatre. Other U.S. stops include Alexandria, Va., at The Birchmere May 9; Boston’s Berklee Performance Center May 14; Chicago’s Old Town School Of Folk May 22; Denver at the Arvada Center May 28 and Los Angeles at the El Rey Theatre June 1.

Small Source Of Comfort drops March 8. For more information on the album and tour, visit

© Daniel Keebler 1993-2023