8/26/2019 by Gary Graff
A funny thing happened to Bruce Cockburn as he started making his new album Crowing Ignites — whose track “Pibroch: The Wind in the Valley” is premiering exclusively below.
The all-instrumental acoustic album was designed to be a Speechless II, a sequel to his 2005 instrumental set Speechless, again compiling instrumental tracks from his albums with a few new compositions. “I set about looking for ideas for new material and ended up with so much of it that (Crowing Ignites) became its own album,” Cockburn tells Billboard. “I wasn’t expecting to come up with so much (new) stuff. The ideas just kept coming. So it’s not Speechless II. It’s its own thing entirely.”
The new 11-track set, recorded in San Francisco, where the Canadian-born Cockburn now resides, and produced by Colin Linden, is titled after the translation of the Latin motto ‘Accendit Cantu’ that appears on the Cockburn family crest. It is, of course, markedly different than Cockburn’s more traditional song-oriented releases, but he says the process is “equally enjoyable.” “The big difference is the obvious one — there are no lyrics,” Cockburn explains. “The way I write songs, the lyrics generally come first, and then it becomes a question of finding the right music to carry those lyrics. With instrumental pieces it’s more like, ‘Here’s an interesting riff on the guitar’ and that suggests something else and it grows from there. It’s a bit like scoring a film; You’ve got images, ideas, characters that need to be supported by the music but not overpowered by it. It’s considerably freer.”
Cockburn’s playing on Crowing Ignites draws from in international array of influences, ranging from Mississippi Delta blues (“Blind Willie,” a nod to Blind Willie Johnson) to Django Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz to kalimba on the track “Seven Daggers” and Tibetan singing bowls, cymbals and chimes on “Bells of Gethsemane.” The jazz-flavored “Mt. Lefroy Waltz” was originally recorded (in a different format, but not used) for Cockburn’s Juno Award-winning 2017 album Bone on Bone.
“Pibroch,” meanwhile, nods to Cockburn’s Scottish heritage; the title refers to classic Highland bagpipe music, as do his droning guitar patterns. “It’s music I find really hypnotic in a stirring kind of way,” Cockburn says. “It gets in the blood. It’s a very simple melodic motif, a four- or five-note swirl that repeats over the droning part of the bagpipe, and then add a grace note, one or two, over it. It’s quite busy sounding but it develops slowly. It’s very meditative, nothing at all like the martial pipe and drum music we’re more familiar with from Scotland.”
Crowning Ignites is the 10th album Linden has produced for Cockburn, who found a converted firehouse which they turned into a studio for the sessions. “It was a challenge for me to make the record without leaving home,” says Cockburn, whose seven-year-old daughter Iona is part of the hand-clapping chorus on “The Groan,” which he composed for a Les Stroud documentary about the aftermath of a school shooting. “Colin was enthusiastic about it from the beginning, and we had a fantastic time.”
With Crowing Ignites out Sept. 20, Cockburn kicks off a North American tour that night at the City Winery in Nashville, with dates booked into November. As for what’s next, Cockburn has not idea — but says that he’s “starting to get the feeling that maybe there will be more writing of some kind coming up. There a point where there’s kind of an energy buildup and I start getting antsy because I haven’t written a song for a while. When I feel that, it usually means there’s something coming, sooner or later. I haven’t thought about it, really, but we’ll see.”