Nothing But A Burning Light

Bruce Cockburn - Nothing But A Burning Light - 1991
Nothing But A Burning Light – 1991

RELEASE DATE: 1991
PURCHASE: iTunes | True North

Chorus:

When you’ve got a dream like mine
Nobody can take you down
When you’ve got a dream like mine
Nobody can push you around

Today I dream of how it used to be
Things were different before
The picture shifts to how it’s going to be
Balance restored

When you know even for a moment
That it’s your time
Then you can walk with the power
Of a thousand generations

[Chorus]

Beautiful rocks — beautiful grass
Beautiful soil where they both combine
Beautiful river — covering sky
Never thought of possession, but all this was mine

When you know even for a moment
That it’s your time
Then you can walk with the power
Of a thousand generations

[Chorus]

August 17, 1990 – Dawson, Yukon Territories

Musicians:
Bruce Cockburn – Electric guitars and Vocals
Larry Klein – Bass
Booker T. Jones – Organ
Denny Frongheiser – Drums
Michael Blair, Ralph Forbes – Percussion
Sam Phillips – Backing Vocals

Also On:
Anything Anytime Anywhere – 2002
Rumours Of Glory box set disc 5 – 2014

And the President said to Kit Carson:
“Take my best four horsemen please
And ride out to the four directions,
Make my great lands barren for me”

Kit Carson said to the President
“You’ve made your offer sweet
I’ll accept this task you’ve set for me
My fall’s not yet complete”

Kit Carson knew he had a job to do
Like other jobs he had before
He’d made the grade
He learned to trade in famine, pestilence, and war

Kit Carson was a hero to some
With his poison and his flame
But somewhere there’s a restless ghost
That used to bear his name

July 1, 1990 – Vaudreuil, Quebec

Musicians:
Bruce Cockburn – Electric guitars and Vocals
Michael Been – Bass
Edgar Meyer – Acoustic Bass
Booker T. Jones – Organ
Jim Keltner – Drums & Percussion

Also On:
Slice O Life – 2009
Rumours Of Glory box set disc 5 – 2014

Used to have a town but the factory moved away
Down to Mexico where they work for hardly any pay
Used to have a country but they sold it down the river
Like a repossessed farm auctioned off to the highest bidder

Mighty trucks of midnight
Moving on
Moving on

Wave a flag, wave the bible, wave your sex or your business degree
Whatever you want — but don’t wave that thing at me
The tide of love can leave your prizes scattered
But when you get to the bottom it’s the only thing that matters

Mighty trucks of midnight
Moving on
Moving on

I believe it’s a sin to try and make things last forever
Everything that exists in time runs out of time some day
Got to let go of the things that keep you tethered
Take your place with grace and then be on your way

June 1991 – Los Angeles

Musicians:
Bruce Cockburn – Electric guitars and Vocals
Larry Klein – Bass
Booker T. Jones – Organ
Jim Keltner – Drums

I’m going to ask the question
Please answer if you can
Is there anybody’s children can tell me
What is the soul of a man?

Won’t somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won’t somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?

I’ve travelled different countries
Travelled to the furthest lands
Couldn’t find nobody could tell me
What is the soul of a man

Won’t somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won’t somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?

I saw a crowd stand talking
I just came up in time
Was teaching the lawyers and the doctors
That a man ain’t nothing but his mind

Won’t somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won’t somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?

I read the Bible often
I try to read it right
As far as I can understand
It’s nothing but a burning light

Won’t somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won’t somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?

When Christ taught in the temple
The people all stood amazed
Was teaching the lawyers and the doctors
How to raise a man from the grave

Won’t somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won’t somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?

cover

Musicians:
Bruce Cockburn – Resonater Guitar & Vocals
Michael Been – Bass
Jim Keltner – Drums & Washboard

Also On:
Slice O Life – 2009
Rumours Of Glory box set disc 5 – 2014

Evening sun slants across the road
Painting everything with gold
I’m headed for home, got a woman there
I can barely wait to hold
Got wind in my hair, got the heat inside
Heart jumping up and down
An empty head and a messed-up bed
I’ll be floating just above the ground

Great big love
Sweeping across the sky

Seen a lot of things in the world outside
Some bad but some good stuff too
Felt the touch of love in the works of God
And now and then in what people do
Never had a lot of faith in human beings
But sometimes we manage to shine
Like a light on a hill beaming out to space
From somewhere hard to find

Great big love
Sweeping across the sky

I ride and I shoot and I play guitar
And I like my life just fine
If you try to take one of these things from me
Then you’re no friend of mine
Got a woman I love and she loves me
And we live on a piece of land
I never know quite how to measure these things
But I guess I’m a happy man

Great big love
Sweeping across the sky

August 6,1990 – Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, Canada

Musicians:
Bruce Cockburn – Electric & Acoustic Guitars and Vocals
T-Bone Burnett – Electric Guitar
Larry Klein – Bass
Denny Frongheiser – Drums
Michael Blair, Ralph Forbes – Percussion
Sam Phillips, Jackson Browne – Backing Vocals

Also On:
Rumours Of Glory box set disc 5 – 2014

Guess I’d get along without you
If I had no choice
It’s taken me this long to find you

Done a lot of getting ready for this
Some things we learn so slow
But look at you, you’ve got plenty behind you

There’s lots of ways to hit the ground
Not many answers to be found
We’re faced with mysteries profound
And this is one of the best ones

There are eight million mysteries
In the naked body
Can’t even sight on some distant horizon

Like the nine billion names of God
Don’t bring you any closer
To anyone you can simply set eyes on

But in the same way it’s as real
Don’t always recognize what I feel
But of the dancing scenes that life reveals
This is one of the best ones

Say what you will
There’s no snake oil or pill
Can make love less painful or fine
There’s no theatre
Even of the absurd
Can express what goes on in this meeting of hearts and minds

Guess I’d get along without you
If I had no choice
But please never make it so I have to

Paid a lot of dues to get here
And after all this life
I’m a loser if I don’t live with you

There’s lots of ways to hit the ground
Not many answers to be found
We’re faced with mysteries profound
And this is one of the best ones

May 22, 1990 – Toronto, Canada

Musicians:
Bruce Cockburn – Acoustic Guitars and Vocals
Michael Been – Bass
Edgar Meyer – Acoustic Bass
Booker T. Jones – Organ
Jim Keltner – Drums
Mark O’Connor – Violin

Also On:
Rumours OF Glory box set disc 5 – 2014

Somebody touched me
Making everything new
Somebody touched me
I didn’t know what to do
Burned through my life
Like a bolt from the blue
Somebody touched me
I know it was you

Somebody touched me
Deep in my bones
Turned a key in the hole
There was somebody home
Some would say that I’m dreaming
But I swear that it’s true
Somebody touched me
I know it was you

Somebody touched me
Like the rain on the wind
Left me alone
Feeling like I’d been skinned
But I know you’re with me
Whatever I go through
Somebody touched me
I know it was you

November 17, 1990 – Halton Hills, Ontario, Canada

Musicians:
Bruce Cockburn – Electric Guitar and Vocals
T-Bone Burnett – Acoustic Guitar
Larry Klein – Bass
Edgar Meyer – Acoustic Bass
Booker T. Jones – Organ
Denny Frongheiser – Drums
Jim Keltner – Drums
Michael Blair – Tamborine

Mary grows a child without the help of a man
Joseph get upset because he doesn’t understand
Angel comes to Joseph in a powerful dream
Says “God did this and you’re part of his scheme”
Joseph comes to Mary with his hat in his hand
Says “forgive me I thought you’d been with some other man”
She says “what if I had been – but I wasn’t anyway and guess what
I felt the baby kick today”

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

The child is born in the fullness of time
Three wise astrologers take note of the signs
Come to pay their respects to the fragile little king
Get pretty close to wrecking everything
‘Cause the governing body of the whole [Holy] land
Is that of Herod, a paranoid man
Who when he hears there’s a baby born King of the Jews
Sends death squads to kill all male children under two
But that same bright angel warns the parents in a dream
And they head out for the border and get away clean

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

There are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
And the message is clear if you’ve got [you have] ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
It’s a Christmas gift [that] you don’t have to buy
There’s a future shining in a baby’s eyes

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

March 1, 1990 – Toronto, Canada

Musicians:
Bruce Cockburn – Electric Guitar and Vocals
Michael Been – Bass
Edgar Meyer – Acoustic Bass
Booker T. Jones – Organ
Jim Keltner – Drums
Sam Phillips – Backing Vocals

Also On:
Rumours OF Glory box set disc 5 – 2014

Instrumental

Musicians:
Bruce Cockburn – Electric Guitar and Vocals
Larry Klein – Bass
Edgar Meyer – Acoustic Bass
Booker T. Jones – Organ
Denny Frongheiser – Drums
Ralph Forbes – Percussion

Out in the desert where the wind never stops
A few simple people try to grow a few crops
Trying to maintain a life and a home
On land that was theirs before the Romans thought of Rome

A few dozen survivors, ragged but proud
With a few woolly sheep, under gathering cloud
It’s never been easy, or free from strife
But the pulse of the land is the pulse of their life

You thought it was over but it’s just like before
Will there never be an end to the Indian wars?

It’s not breech-loading rifles and wholesale slaughter
It’s kickbacks and thugs and diverted water
Treaties get signed and the papers change hands
But they might as well draft these agreements in sand

Noble Savage on the cinema screen
An Indian’s good when he cannot be seen
And the so-called white so-called race
Digs for itself a pit of disgrace

You thought it was over but it’s just like before
Will there never be an end to the Indian wars?

January 25, 1990 – Toronto, Canada

Musicians:
Bruce Cockburn – Acoustic Guitar and Vocals
Jackson Browne – Resonator Guitar & Vocals
Mark O’Connor – Violin & Mandolin

Also On:
Rumours OF Glory box set disc 5 – 2014

Instrumental

April 1990 – Mississauga, Canada

Musicians:
Bruce Cockburn – Electric Guitars
Edgar Meyer – Bass
Booker T. Jones – Organ
Michael Blair, Ralph Forbes – Percussion
Mark O’Connor – Violin

Also On:
Speechless – 2005

I love the pounding of hooves
I love engines that roar
I love the wild music of waves on the shore
And the spiral perfection of a hawk when it soars
Love my sweet woman down to the core

There’s roads and there’s roads
And they call, can’t you hear it?
Roads of the earth
And roads of the spirit
The best roads of all
Are the ones that aren’t certain
One of those is where you’ll find me
Till they drop the big curtain

Hear the wind moan
In the bright diamond sky
These mountains are waiting
Brown-green and dry
I’m too old for the term
But I’ll use it anyway
I’ll be a child of the wind
Till the end of my days

Little round planet
In a big universe
Sometimes it looks blessed
Sometimes it looks cursed
Depends on what you look at obviously
But even more it depends on the way that you see

Hear the wind moan
In the bright diamond sky
These mountains are waiting
Brown-green and dry
I’m too old for the term
But I’ll use it anyway
I’ll be a child of the wind
Till the end of my days

December 24,1989 – Tucson, Arizona, USA

Musicians:
Bruce Cockburn – Resonator Guitar & Vocals
Edgar Meyer – Acoustic Bass
Booker T. Jones – Organ
Mark O’Connor – Violin

Also On:
Slice O Life – 2009
Rumours OF Glory box set disc 5 – 2014



‘Nothing but a Burning Light’ Bruce Cockburn’s first release for Columbia teams him with producer T-Bone Burnett whose singer/songwriter background, and spiritual leanings, seemed to be a perfect match. Throughout, Burnett’s production is understated, allowing Cockburn’s voice, guitar, and songs to lead the way over a solid foundation of bass, drums, and tasteful organ by Booker T. Jones.

This sort of sympathetic production brings out the best in Cockburn and his material, which is consistently strong. Songs such as “Kit Carson,” “Mighty Trucks of Midnight,” and “Indian Wars” continue the weightier concerns of his work of the past decade, but the majority of the record takes on a more personal, introspective tone. “One of the Best Ones” and “Great Big Love” are winning affirmations of love and life, while the retelling of the nativity, “Cry of a Tiny Babe,” is as beautiful and moving a contemporary Christmas song as you’re likely to hear.

Cockburn also decides to include a rare cover, his excellent reading of the Blind Willie Johnson gospel-blues “Soul of a Man,” which fits nicely in the whole of the album.

Though it may lack the immediate power, Nothing but a Burning Light is Bruce Cockburn’s best since his 1984 release Stealing Fire.

Jackson Browne and Sam Phillips guest on backing vocals. ~ Brett Hartenbach, All Music Guide

Album Info:

All lyrics and music by Bruce Cockburn except “Soul of a Man” lyrics and music by Blind Willie Johnson, arrangement by Bruce Cockburn.

All songs (copyright) 1991 Golden Mountain Music Corp. (SOCAN) All rights reserved. Used by Permission.

Produced by T-Bone Burnett
Production Assistant: Joe Henry

Engineered and Mixed by: Pat McCarthy at Ocean Way Recording, Hollywood, CA (May-July, 1991), except “A Dream Like Mine” Recorded by Pat McCarthy and Mixed by Dave Leonard at Scream Studieos, Los Angeles, CA
Second Engineer: Paula “Max” Garcia
Mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound, New York City

Sam Phillips appears courtesy of Virgin Records
Jackson Browne appears courtesy of Elektra Entertainment, a division of Warner Communications, Inc.
Mark O’Connor appears courtesy of Warner Brothers
Michael Been appears courtesy of Red Dot Records Limited

Art Direction: Chris Austopchuk
Photography: Anton Corbijn

Thanks for the Help: Donnie Ienner, Steve Berkowitz, Pat McCarthy and T-Bone Burnett.