May 25, 2023
by Graham Bollands
Album number 38, and twelve new songs as powerful as anything he has ever written.
Bruce Cockburn is an inspired singer-songwriter and an exceptional guitarist, and on ‘O Sun O Moon’, his 38th studio album, this award-winning Canadian artist demonstrates that he is not letting up and that he still has plenty to say. “Time takes its toll, but in my soul I’m on a roll,” he sings on the opening track, and without a doubt he is. On the eve of his 78th birthday, Cockburn has released twelve new compositions as powerful as anything he has ever written.
Exquisitely recorded in Nashville with his long-time producer, Colin Linden, ‘O Sun O Moon‘ exudes a newfound simplicity and clarity, as Cockburn, who is renowned for tackling themes such as politics, human rights and environmental issues, focuses on more spiritual than topical concerns this time around. His mood is reflective, and many of the songs strike gentle tones, from the jazz sway of ‘Push Comes To Shove’ to the folky drones of ‘Into the Now’ and the beautiful ‘When The Spirit Walks In The Room’, and from the string-laden ‘Us All’ to the hymn-like ‘Colin Went Down to the Water’- an achingly sad song describing the drowning of a friend. And ‘Haiku‘, the only track with no vocals and a throwback to his last studio recording, 2019’s Crowing Ignites which was a collection of all instrumental songs, is a wonderful four-minute showcase of his fleet-fingered guitar work. That’s not to say that there aren’t louder and more upbeat moments, most notably the urgent, driving resonator guitar on ‘On A Roll‘ which Cockburn plays with all the vigour of his veteran blues heroes, and the buzzing dulcimer on ‘To Keep The World We Know‘, where he is joined by co-writer of the song, Susan Aglukark, to voice concerns about the growing threat of global warming.
In keeping with so many Cockburn albums, the musicianship is superb. Along with long-term friends Linden (guitars), Janice Powers (keyboards) and Gary Craig (drums), the album features bassist Viktor Krauss, drummer Chris Brown, accordionist Jeff Taylor, violinist Jenny Scheinman and multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke. And his guest vocalists include Shawn Colvin, Buddy Miller, Allison Russell and Sarah Jarosz, who also plays mandolin, along with Ann and Regina McCrary, daughters of gospel great Rev. Samuel McCrary, one of the founders of the Fairfield Four. The McCrary sisters shine brightest on the title track, the full name of which is ‘O Sun by Day O Moon by Night’. They sing the euphoric chorus of the song which relates, during spoken verses, a dream Cockburn had in which he makes the journey to heaven. “In the dream, which was really powerful,” says Cockburn, “I see myself silhouetted on a ridge with this jar of blood pouring it on the soil. It wasn’t scary or disturbing at all.”
The album’s jazzy closer, ‘When You Arrive’, finds Cockburn confessing to feeling his age when he sings “You’re limping like a three-legged canine, backbone creaking like a cheap shoe.” But it’s clearly a song of acceptance, about eventually slipping one’s mortal coil, as he’s joined on the chorus by all of his guest vocalists, singing “bells will ring when you arrive.” He may be feeling his age, but this superb album demonstrates that there’s a huge amount of life in him yet, and it has every chance of standing as one of the best of his long and distinguished career.
Credit: Graham Bollands