Americana Highways brings you this exclusive premiere watch of Bruce Cockburn’s slideshow video with his new song “Sweetness and Light.” This song is from his forthcoming instrumental album Crowing Ignites, which was produced by Colin Linden and is due out September 20 on True North Records.
So often people focus on “lyrics first,” but this album focuses on music and musicianship, and accompanied by Cockburn’s exquisite acoustic fingerwork, it demonstrates the depth at which music, alone, can touch the human heart. Crowing Ignites exhibits Cockburn’s adept acoustic fingerpicking acumen, on a collection of songs that are introspective complements to his Celtic and world music inspirations. “Sweetness and Light” is loyal to its title, and will bring you exactly what you need in your day.
“There I am at home, practicing, exploring, with the guitar in DADGAD, a tuning I’ve been playing around with for a while now, and I think, ‘What if I move my left-hand fingers this way? And then that way?’ Suddenly there’s the beginning of a new piece. It more or less wrote itself over the next hour. It wanted to be called ‘Sweetness and Light,’ and so it was.” –Bruce Cockburn
Mike Raine, of Canadian Musician Magazine, interviewed Bruce in Toronto on July 16, 2019
31 July 2019 – “I’ve never thought in terms of a ‘career.’ I’m uncomfortable with the word. I don’t use it because I’ve never approached what I do that way.”
One of the greatest Canadian songwriters of the last five decades, Bruce Cockburn, joins us on this week’s podcast. An inductee into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and member of the Order of Canada, Bruce is about to release his 34th (!) album, which is an all-instrumental collection entitled Crowing Ignites. In this wide-ranging conversation, Mike and Bruce chat about his earliest years as a songwriter and performer in Massachusetts and Ottawa, the first song he wrote that he knew was good, the generational crossover in his audience, his friendships and partnerships with his long-time producer Colin Linden and manager Bernie Finkelstein, songwriting (of course), and a bunch more.
Back in 2005, Bruce Cockburn released Speechless, an album of all-instrumentals that focused on his acoustic guitar playing. That record not only gained him further renown for his picking but earned him a Canadian Folk Music Award for Best Instrumentalist. On September 20 True North Records will issue Crowing Ignites, which presents Cockburn in a similar setting once again. Unlike Speechless, which drew on previously-recorded compositions, Crowing Ignites presents 11 new songs.
This is Cockburn’s 34th record and once again, he deftly blends folk, blues, jazz and world sounds. Today we premiere a new animated video for “April in Memphis,” which Cockburn explains he wrote in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated outside The Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Cockburn tells Relix, “The piece came into being on MLK Day 2019. It pretty much formed itself in the course of a practice session. It took the shape of a lament, more than a celebration, which set me to thinking of King’s murder, and the loss of a voice of wisdom, compassion and respect that we could really use about now. Hence, the title. I think the video conveys the right sense of the poignant beauty, of the dignity, of the man and the spirituality that fueled him.”
In 1984, Bruce Cockburn scored an unlikely pop hit with “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” which describes the Canadian singer-songwriter’s fantasies of violent retribution following a visit to a Guatemalan refugee camp that was regularly shelled by government helicopters. Cockburn originally recorded the song in a rock-band setting, flush with electric guitars and synths, but when he stopped by AG’s studios to film a private lesson last spring (see “Band in a Box” on page 20 of the print/digital edition), he stripped the song down to just guitar and voice.
The transcription on the following pages captures that performance note for note. At a glance, the notation might appear dense and complex, but you can make things easier on yourself if you break the song down and approach it systematically. You could play the first ten bars of the intro exactly as written, but it would be equally effective to improvise the natural harmonics. What’s most important here is the continuous eighth-note stream of open E notes—play them as firmly and evenly as possible, using palm muting if you’d like.
The heart of the song appears in bars 11–14. Riff A is the harmonic sequence for the subsequent verses and guitar solo, so be sure to spend plenty of time learning to play it with precision. In bars 11 and 13, maintain a barre across strings 3–5 at the seventh fret; grab the ninth-fret B and E with your third and fourth finger, respectively, or barre them both with either of those fingers. For the C6/9 chord in measures 12 and 14, keep your second finger stationed on the eighth-fret C and your first finger barred at the seventh fret, while stopping the tenth-fret G with your fourth finger.
In his off-the-cuff-feeling solo, starting at bar 45, Cockburn continues the eighth-note bass action established in the intro, above which he adds lines based mostly on 16th notes. Key to playing an effective solo here isn’t necessarily playing exactly what’s on the printed page but understanding how it works. The solo might sound intricate, but Cockburn is simply playing notes from the E natural minor scale (E F# G A B C D) entirely in seventh position—notes within easy reach of the chord shapes in the main riff. (For the lowdown on soloing with chord shapes, see Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers’ Weekly Workouts in the June 2017 and March 2018 issues of AG.) Be sure to put in the time studying this approach, as it will pay dividends for you in solo-guitar settings in general.
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the September/October 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 60.
10 June 2019 – Bruce taped a wonderful show on 24 October 2018 while in Cleveland for an American Public Television show called Songs at the Center.
It was taped at the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewwod, Ohio. He played three songs: Forty Years in the Wilderness, If I had a Rocket Launcher and The Gift. The program is 27 minutes long and includes interview segments by Eric Gnezda.
The National Music Centre in Calgary has been the physical home of three Canadian Music Halls of Fame—the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame Collection—since opening in 2016. Members of all three Halls of Fame have visited their plaques, such as Sarah McLachlan, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Cochrane, Burton Cummings, Bob Ezrin, Randy Bachman and The Tragically Hip, to name a few.