Bruce Cockburn’s Wide-Ranging Album, ‘Bone to Bone,’ Lends Comfort in Troubled Times

Review by DAN MACINTOSH

Bruce Cockburn’s music has never been simple and straightforward because Cockburn is a complicated musician-poet who is ever unafraid to follow his muse. Wherever it leads.

These days, he is straying away from the (relatively) more traditional Christianity of his recent past, and onto a much more mystical path. Listeners first introduced to Cockburn’s music because of his admittedly thin association with what’s sometimes termed ‘Contemporary Christian music,’ may be disappointed with the artist’s current non-specific spiritual vision. But then again, if anyone ever assumed Cockburn would fit into any sort of pre-determined evangelical mold, probably wasn’t ever listening too closely from the start.

Bruce Cockburn images courtesy of the artist.

Cockburn Mellows With Age

Perhaps what’s most surprising about Cockburn’s latest Bone to Bone album (his whopping 33rd to date!), is how unexpectedly gentile he sounds throughout. Can this really be the same man that aimed his lyrical missive at cruel warmongers with “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” back in 1984? Shouldn’t a man so unforgiving of the Bush presidencies be uncontrollably livid with Donald Trump? Perhaps this is an angry, graying man, somehow keeping much of his outrage within. Might it be his resistance isn’t yet showing through in his music? Hard to fathom, but possibly true. Yet, instead of aiming his political weaponry at the current administration, Cockburn sings — for example — about the social networking, pseudo political expertise of our “Café Society.”

For this avowed spiritualist (confessed to be in a kind of ‘dark night of the soul,’ expressed best with opener “States I’m In”), Cockburn is nevertheless especially God-centered throughout much of his new 11-song collection. These musings range from the sonically gospel-y “Jesus Train,” to the actual traditional gospel-blues of “Twelve Gates to The City.” Seeker Cockburn is at his most conspicuously vertically-centered during “Looking and Waiting.” It is one of Cockburn’s best expressly spiritual songs since many of the similarly likeminded songs on his masterwork Humans. With it, Cockburn sings of being doggedly undeterred in his quest for the divine. He’s “scanning the skies,” and scouring nature in his search; albeit with “no clear view.” It’s a song sure to please both the faithful and the curious about all things spiritual.

Bruce Cockburn’s music brings relief to those with a burden – Photo courtesy of the artist.

‘Highly Evolved Guitar’

The album’s title cut is an instrumental that reminds us of Cockburn’s highly evolved guitar skills. Even though he doesn’t sing a single note on it, the tune builds dramatically like an intensifying film score. Producer Colin Linden consistently surrounds Cockburn with many ear-popping aural elements, including Ron Miles’ jazzy flugelhorn solos in a few notable places.

Cockburn also keeps listeners pleasantly surprised with his various lyrical approaches. “Mon Chemin,” for instance, finds him fluently singing in French, while “3 Al Purdys” incorporates quoted Al Purdy poetic lines in an unusual song sung from the perspective of a literate homeless man.

To paraphrase scripture, Cockburn’s latest work is not intended for the spiritually immature; ones still dining on a diet of milk. Instead, it’s a meaty dish. It’s also a thoughtful, intense and endless creative work, which is Bruce Cockburn at his best.

Bruce Cockburn, Bone to Bone; True North Records