1 May 2023 – In 53 years of writing and recording, there’s been an undercurrent of spirituality in the music of Canadian Bruce Cockburn. He’s always had a knack for painting a picture of his Christian faith in a way that doesn’t hit you over the head, using the beauty and mystery of the natural world to illustrate the wonder of it all (just listen to my all-time favorite album of his, Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws, and you’ll know what I mean).
His innate kindness and empathy for his fellow humans has always drawn me to him. Bruce Cockburn is one of the good ones (and criminally underappreciated in these United States, but I’ll digress).
With O Sun O Moon, due out May 12th on True North records, Bruce’s spiritual side steps out of the shadows and, well, “Into the Now.”
Bruce Cockburn will turn 78 this month, and after a tough collective few years for all of us, Bruce brings out themes of faith, mortality, love, conflict and climate in this beautiful collection of songs.
Recorded at on/off band member, album producer & pal Colin Linden’s backyard studio in Nashville, the album features some quality guests – from Buddy Miller and Sarah Jarosz to Shawn Colvin and Allison Russell ( have you heard Nightflyer? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNJgwj8d9eo ).
From the get go, Bruce faces that ticking clock and his faith head on with “I’m On A Roll”:
Pressure building left and right / Timer ticking, just out of sight / I’m taking shelter in the light
Time takes its toll / But in my soul / I’m on a roll
The powerful “Orders” addresses the oft overlooked yet plain and simple mantra of “Love thy neighbor”:
The sweet, the vile, the small, the tall The one who rises to the call / The list is long — as I recall / Our orders said to love them all
Not an easy concept to adhere to, is it? But nonetheless, as Bruce illustrates so well throughout the record, it’s the foundation of his faith.
With the backing of Shawn Colvin’s beautiful voice, the sweet, laid back front-porch feel of “Push Comes to Shove” continues the message: “push comes to shove / It’s all about love.”
In July 2021, Bruce vacationed in Maui with Dr. Jeff Garner, the lead pastor of the San Francisco Lighthouse church, which Bruce attends. In addition to helping lead a Sunday service, Bruce spent some quality time writing tunes. The first song he wrote is my personal favorite, “Into the Now,” www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jaBq-Z18Ls which has been a staple of his solo acoustic show ever since (I was lucky enough to see him play it in Scottsdale last year). It’s a Cockburn special: timely, poignant lyrics, a chorus that varies each of the first three times before tying all together exquisitely at the end; strung together words like: “Light as the feet of birds hunting on sod / Love trickles down like honey from God”; Sarah Jarosz on harmonies and mandolin. I mean, come on (!), it gets no better.
Another Maui-written song, “Colin Went Down To The Water” was released to streaming services a few weeks back. Featuring background vocals by Allison Russell, Buddy Miller and Colin Linden, the spiritual call and response of the song instantly connected with me (listen below).
The third Maui song is “King of the Bolero,” where Bruce channels a raspy, bluesy vocal to tell the story of a nightclub guitarist who’s “Got a double chin all the way round his neck / And a pot belly in the back.” Not a flattering image, and it makes me wonder who inspired this (internet sleuthing tells me the nightclub in the the Maui Grand Wailea Hotel is the Botero lounge. The Colombian artist Botero is mentioned in the song. Did Bruce write this while taking in some entertainment at the Botero? Hmm…).
Bruce’s resonator guitar, Gary Craig’s xylophone, Viktor Strauss’s bowed bass and Jenny Scheinman’s gorgeous violin usher in the sublime “Us All” (also available on the streaming services). It’s a hypnotic, mournful plea to “let kindness reign for Us All.”
The welcome sound of Bruce’s dulcimer rings in “To Keep the World We Know,” a sobering take on climate change, sung with indigenous Canadian artist Susan Aglukark (who sings in a native Inuit language called Inuktitut). An important message; and rhythmically reminiscent of Bruce’s great 1977 tune “Arrows of Light.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GfCrNp0nTI
The closing songs of O Sun O Moon bring it all back to the theme of faith & mortality in their own unique ways. The penultimate tune is the prayerful “O Sun By Day O Moon By Night,” featuring spoken word verses building to a joyous chorus prayer with gospel-soaked background vocals:
O sun by day o moon by night / Light my way so I get this right / And if that sun and moon don’t shine/ Heaven guide these feet of mine / To Glory
The album finale, “When You Arrive,” culminates in a singalong chorus featuring the full cast of previously mentioned characters. With a sauntering, New Orleans style rhythm, the repeated chorus brings to my mind an image of Bruce and the gang second-lining lazily down a French Quarter street, shuffling contently off into the distance – firm in their faith – and ready for whatever may be waiting around corner.