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Bruce Cockburn: Crowing Ignites – Relix Review

November 12, 2019
by J. Poet

Even after more than 40 years of making music, Bruce Cockburn is still able to surprise and delight the ear with his expressive playing and impressive fingerpicking.

This new, all-instrumental album features 11 compositions, recorded with a small group of sympathetic players. His eclectic interests in folk, jazz, rock and world music are on display here, presented in his usual understated style, emphasizing the melodies and shining a light on his often virtuosic playing.

The tunes have a cinematic air and, without lyrics, they invite you to wander freely through the terrain of your own emotions. “April in Memphis” is a slow, funereal waltz that commemorates the enduring spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Shimmering, descending runs slide into solemn bass notes that hang in the air like mournful angels, while chimes toll quietly in the background.

“Seven Daggers” is another melancholy track, with sustained notes from Cockburn’s 12-string drifting under a warm, bubbling, percussive interplay between kalimba, charango, dulcimer, bells, chimes and producer Colin Linden’s booming baritone guitar.

The deep bluesy sound of “The Groan,” is amplified with Cockburn’s bent notes and Linden’s somber mandolin supported by the grim rhythm of clapping hands.

Cockburn shows his lighter side on “Sweetness and Light,” a bright, melodic number that echoes its title, with lively bass notes and vibrant single-note runs.

He also takes some excursions with the jazzy “The Mt. Lefroy Waltz”—a showcase for Cockburn’s quiet electric guitar, the cornet of Ron Miles and the subtle rhythms of Roberto Occhipinti’s stand-up bass—and ”Pibroch: The Wind in the Valley,” a pastoral jaunt full of iridescent arpeggios and bright, droning dulcimer tones.

Credit: Relix


Crowing Ignites – Review by Folking

by Mike Wistow

BRUCE COCKBURN – Crowing Ignites (True North Records TND 737)

Bruce Cockburn, legendary Canadian artist, released Crowing Ignites on September 20th. This is Cockburn’s 34th album and is made up of eleven new compositions – unusually, all instrumental. In 2005, Cockburn released a previous all-instrumental album, Speechless, which earned him a Canadian folk Music award for Best Instrumentalist. I’ve just re-listened to it – I prefer Crowing Ignites, which tells you how good I think this is.

I approached this review with some trepidation – how do you describe the mountain tops of guitar playing when you’re barely in the foothills? It was pointed out to me that, in comparison to Cockburn’s finger picking style, most of us are in the foothills and I really should just get on with it. Here goes.

The video linked below shows Cockburn playing ‘Bardo Rush’, the opening track off the album. The New York Times has described him as having “the hardest working right thumb in show business”; you can see – more importantly, hear – from the video that, true as that may be, the rest of the digits are pretty hard working as well. On first listen I was wondering if there were two guitars at places; as you can see there’s one and the thumb drives the rhythm over a melody, part picked, part strummed and so smoothly played that you can only watch in awe while the tune pulls your emotions into a slightly uncertain location while the rhythm holds them reassuringly stable.

The album moves on to ‘Easter’, more relaxing, written on Easter Sunday, beginning with a mood of calm joy, bringing you home to an easy place – before it leaps into more energetic musical celebration. ‘April In Memphis’ (written on Martin Luther King Day and named for the day/month and city he was shot) is emotionally similar, but finishes with the haunting hint of chimes we’ll hear later on the album.

The style changes a little for ‘Blind Willie’, guitar and dobro swapping notes on a track named after the gospel blues player Blind Willie Johnson. ‘Seven Daggers’ moves the sound again, this time to a more spiritual feel, not least because of the way the guitar plays against the kalimba. ‘The Mt Lefroy Waltz’ is smooth jazz.

‘Sweetness and Light’ is a jauntily finger-picked tune, while ‘Angels In The Half Light’ which follows it is more emotionally mixed (as you might surmise from the title), that driving thumb again, deep notes, bent in places, and fighting with the higher pitched cheeriness – which never quite wins the tune and thus leaves an uncertain equilibrium. ‘The Groan’ is a return to a more bluesy, hand-clapped style – the title presumably because it was written about the aftermath of a school shooting.

The penultimate ‘Pibroch: The Wind In The Valley’ makes the guitar sound like highland bagpipe – Cockburn is Canadian but there is Scottish heritage and he has said “I’ve always loved pibroch, or classic bagpipe music, it seems to be in my blood. Makes me want to sip whiskey out of a seashell on some rocky headland”. ‘Bells of Gethsemane’ closes the album, more than seven minutes long, holding the attention, some guitar work which touches on Scottish styles, blues styles, echoing lead acoustic and all set against Tibetan symbols, chimes and singing bowls. It works. Give it a listen.

Cockburn has noted of this album: “It’s different from songs with lyrics……with instrumental stuff, that specificity isn’t there and the meaning is up for grabs. But I’m glad if people find a message in the music”. There are complexities in using the medium of words to capture the medium of sound, particularly for an instrumental album where we will each hear it differently so I’ll conclude by simply saying that, for all the different styles I’ve referred to above, this is less an album with eleven tracks and more a piece with different movements.

True North Records TND 737

Credit: Folking.com


Bruce Cockburn CROWING IGNITES A Guitar Masterclass That Defies Description

The Rocking Magpie

9 September 2019 – Release date: September 20, 2019 – True North Records

There are quite a few ‘instrumental albums’ in my collection; predominantly of the Jazz persuasion, but one or two Delta Blues ones for good measure (one has 17 harmonica tracks on it!) plus a couple of ‘Experimental’ type things from Mahavishnu Orchestra among others; but nothing in the Folk idiom.

I say ‘Folk’; but that moniker doesn’t do justice to what Legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn has created here alongside a handful of friends.

The quality throughout Bruce Cockburn’s 34th album CROWING IGNITES (and second one of instrumentals!!) is of such a high standard I don’t want to just call them ‘tracks’ …… how about opuses?

The first of these ‘opuses’ is Bardo Rush and I was left spellbound the first time I played it; and again tonight Cockburn’s dazzling fretwork is almost peerless in the musical world I inhabit.

Okay; this was all recorded in a studio; with plenty of time for Take 2’s; but the playing on each and every track is absolutely flawless and, it has to be said exemplary too.

There are flourishes in Easter and The Groan* that will send a shiver down your spine as your lips break into a stupendous grin; such is the way Cockburn delivers a Masterclass in Acoustic Guitar playing.

Perhaps what has impressed me most here is that Bruce Cockburn manages to create music that could and should be in very different genres; but somehow manages to make the intriguing Jazz opuses Angels in the Half Light and The Mt. Lefroy Waltz sit comfortably alongside the delightful Ragtime ditty Sweetness & Light; a raw Blues tune like Blind Willie and the transcendental (?) Seven Daggers and make them all sound cohesive. What a rare talent this man really is.

Selecting a single Favorite Track (or should that be opus?) is almost futile; but then again two tunes really do manage to stand out here. April in Memphis is quite staggering in its very own rite; with Cockburn playing his guitar in an almost Classical fashion; and then I read that it was written on MLK Day 2019 and is dedicated to Dr. King; my heart skipped a beat.

The other is also a tad on the Classical side; but with a dramatic Celtic spine too, which combines to make Pibroch, The Wind In The Valley quite remarkable in many ways; which is why it’s probably taking the accolade.

For an album as beautiful as this, there were very few people involved in the making; all of whom; including Iona Cockburn; 7 year old daughter of Bruce who helped supply handclaps on The Groan; deserve a huge round of applause for creating such a magical and majestic body of work; that will certainly stand the test of time.

Released September 20th 2019

Credit: The Rocking Magpie


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