Singing in the dark

A veteran broods in songs of experience

NICHOLAS JENNINGS February 24 1997

Singing in the dark

A veteran broods in songs of experience

NICHOLAS JENNINGS February 24 1997

Singing in the dark

A veteran broods in songs of experience

NICHOLAS JENNINGS

One mark of an enduring artist is his openness to change and his ability to reinvent himself. Over the course of a long, stellar career, Bruce Cockburn has varied his sound and tried on new images almost as often as David Bowie, pop music’s ultimate chameleon. There has been Cockburn the pastoral folkie (Going to the Country), Cockburn the gentle Christian (Joy Will Find a Way), Cockburn the urban guerrilla (If I Had a Rocket Launcher) and Cockburn the environmental crusader (If a Tree Falls). Stylis:ically, his work has run the ?amut from folk and jazz to clues and rock. Through it all,

:he Ottawa-born artist, now 51, las remained remarkably true :o his muse, writing songs that search for answers about himself and the world around him.

THE CHARITY OF NIGHT

Bruce Cockburn (True North/MCA)

Vow, with his 23rd album, The Charity of Tight, Cockburn the intrepid explorer has irawn from his many phases to produce an ilbum of dazzling honesty and depth.

The album opens with the visceral tug of Tight Train, pulling the listener into the lark, dreamy world that pervades much of he recording. Over a shuffling beat, Cock)urn sings about escape and isolation with he striking imagery of a Raymond Chaniler novel. “I can only remember scenes, lever the stories that I live,” he confides on he jazz-driven Birmingham Shadows, one of several songs with spoken verse. Yet the avid snapshots scattered throughout the al-

bum tell complex, evocative tales. Get Up Jonah describes Cockburn’s chance encounters with former kingpins in terrorist police states in order to paint an edgy portrait of death. Likewise, the almost cinematic title track conjures up scenes of sex and sexual aggression to explore the inevitability of desire.

There are also romantic ballads and one message song, written about the postwar problem of land mines in Mozambique. But these pale next to several confessional, soulsearching compositions. Strange Waters, with its droning medieval tones, sounds like Cockburn has reached some sort of spiritual crossroads. And The Whole Night Sky, a sensuous, bluesy number featuring Bonnie Raitt’s chilling slide guitar, asks “derailed and desperate/how did I get here?/hanging from this high wire/by the tatters of my faith.” Cockburn’s new restlessness is best expressed on Pacing the Cage. With a simple folk accompaniment that recalls his acoustic gem All the Diamonds in This World, Cockburn sings of the need to keep changing his co-ordinates: “I’ve proven who I am so many times/the magnetic strip’s worn thin/and each time I was someone else/and everyone else was taken in.” At the same time, he appears willing to take new risks, singing “Sometimes the darkness is your friend.” Embracing both the familiar past and an uncertain future, The Charity of Night finds Bruce Cockburn bravely turning experience into stunning songs.