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'O Sun O Moon'   

-  Label: 'True North Records'
-  Genre: 'Folk' -  Release Date: '12th May 2023'-  Catalogue No: 'TND811V'

Our Rating:
At 78 years of age, Bruce Cockburn could be excused for resting on his laurels and looking back with satisfaction on a back catalogue of great music. Yet he just keeps on keeping on with his 38th studio album.

It was recorded in Nashville with his long-time producer, Colin Linden, It features Linden on guitar, Janice Powers on keyboards and Gary Craig on drums, bassist Viktor Krauss, drummer Chris Brown, accordionist Jeff Taylor, violinist Jenny Scheinman and multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke. Guest vocalists include Shawn Colvin, Buddy Miller, Allison Russell and Sarah Jarosz, who also plays mandolin.

Cockburn’s previous studio recording, 2019’s Crowing Ignites, was a collection of all instrumental numbers but here there’s just one - Haiku - an elegant piece which shows that Cockburn has lost none of his finger-picking skills.

The campaigning voice can still be heard but this is tempered by the acceptance that death comes to us all. When The Spirit Walks In The Room is a poignant, gravelly voiced ode to the fragility of the mortal coil which is likened to a “thread upon the loom.”

The chugging beat of the opening track - On A Roll - is a sage-like acknowledgement of the dying of the light coupled with a determination to put mind over matter “Time takes its toll, but in my soul I’m on a roll.”

To Keep The World We Know, performed and co-written with Inuk singer Susan Aglukark, addresses the clear and present danger of global warming although Cockburn’s concerns are generally more spiritual than topical. Colin Went Down To The Water is a hymn-like piece in which the drowning of a friend is related as a religious journey: “bound for the infinite.”

The focus on a higher plain is most evident on the Cohen-esque title track (O Sun By Day O Moon By Night) with spoken verses and backing vocals from Gospel singers Ann and Regina McCrary. Cockburn acknowledges “I think these are exactly the kind of songs that an old guy writes.”

The gentle humanist plea of Us All is placed within a wider faith-based context aligned with a belief in the power of love to change lives.

In Push Comes To Shove he sings ”it’s all about love” and with Into The Now, a prayer-like mantra - "love trickles down like honey from God.” - puts earthly confrontations with banks and cops into a broader perspective.   

The most unusual song is King Of The Bolero where a woozy clarinet, accordion and New Orleans-style horns form part of a portrait of an oversized barroom musician. This prompts light-hearted comparisons to Minnesota Fats, Fats Domino, Fats Waller and and Fatty Arbuckle.

In the album’s jazzy closer, When You Arrive, Cockburn confesses to feeling his age when he sings “You’re limping like a three-legged canine, backbone creaking like a cheap shoe.”

While coming to terms with the reality that his body is becoming weaker, Cockburn says “I’m grateful that I can keep on doing anything at this point.” We should give thanks too.

Bruce Cockburn’s website

  author: Martin Raybould

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