Media 2023

December 28, 2023
The Millstone

Almonte’s Linda Manzer named to the Order of Canada

Linda Manzer, who during her long career has built guitars for some of the world’s leading musicians, was appointed on December 28 by Governor General Mary Simon to the Order of Canada for “her trailblazing contributions and achievements as one of the world’s leading luthiers.” The Order recognizes people “who have made extraordinary and sustained contributions” to the nation.


She joins several other local residents who have been named to the Order over the years (Noreen Young, Jan Andrews, Tony Belcourt and Jim Hugessen). 

When she received the call from the Governor General’s office about a month ago, Linda told the Millstone, she first thought it must be a friend pranking her. But the voice wasn’t familiar and sounded quite serious. She quickly realized this was for real. She told the Millstone that it has taken time to react to the news. She said she is hugely honoured and humbled.

She said her first reaction was to want to “go into the backyard and shout it to the world,” but she confined the news to a tight circle of friends and family whom she was permitted to tell.

Her friends and family have always been good at keeping secrets, and they didn’t leak the news. Her four siblings are very happy but her brother did say that if her mother were still alive, she would tell her not to “let it go to her head”.

Linda’s passion for luthiery was sparked in the early 1970s after seeing Joni Mitchell play a three-stringed Appalachian dulcimer in a concert, which intrigued her. Unable to afford music store prices for one, she followed a sales clerk’s suggestion that she build her own from a kit. From then on she was hooked. She went to art school and apprenticed for several years with two leading luthiers, then went into business for herself.

She has since built guitars for performers including Carlos Santana, Liona Boyd, Bruce Cockburn, Paul Simon and Gordon Lightfoot. She has built many instruments for jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, including the Pikasso, which has 42 strings and four necks.

In 2012 Linda launched the ‘Group of Seven Guitar Project’, which saw her and fellow luthiers create guitars honouring the landscape painters who began Canada’s first national art movement. An eighth guitar commemorated Tom Thomson, who died before the Group was established. The prestigious McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg commissioned the project and staged a gala exhibit of the finished guitars in 2017.

As part of the exhibit, local musicians Kathryn Briggs and Terry Tufts performed in the premiere of Sonic Palette – Tom Thomson’s Voice through Music 100 Years Later. Terry played “The Manzer Palette”, a 51-stringed multi-necked guitar created by Linda for the event.

After the outbreak of war in 2022, Linda founded the ‘Sunflower Guitar for Ukraine’ project, building a special Ukraine-themed guitar to inspire people to donate to much-needed humanitarian relief there.

Musicians — including major names like Dolly Parton, James Taylor, Graham Nash and Peter Frampton — have taken up the cause by appearing in videos where they play the guitar, sign its blue and yellow case, and encourage their fans to donate. So far nearly $200,000 has been raised.

After working from Toronto for many years, Linda relocated to Almonte about 15 years ago. “I started visiting almost 20 years ago and fell in love with the beautiful town and the wonderful community. So I decided to settle here,” she said.

The Governor General’s office asked Linda where she wanted to say she was from, as she still splits her time between Toronto and Almonte. She told them Almonte, because that is where her heart is.

December 26, 2023
Toronto Globe & Mail

Three music books on Max Webster, Bruce Cockburn and first guitars, that flew under the radar in 2023
by Brad Wheeler

It was a year of blockbuster music biographies, with books that included Britney Spears’s The Woman in Me, Barbra Streisand’s My Name Is Barbra and, closer to home, My Effin’ Life by Rush singer-bassist Geddy Lee. In contrast to the celebrity-driven fare, here are three titles from Canadian authors on Canadian subjects that flew under the radar in 2023. They are available at bookstores and Amazon, unless otherwise noted.

Max Webster: High Class, by Bob Wegner (self-published)

Author Bob Wegner describes the seventies rock band Max Webster as “iconic, innovative, immersive and incomparable.” One could add another adjective: invisible. The Toronto group led by Kim Mitchell was signed to the same management team and record label that looked after Rush, and had its debut self-titled album co-produced by Rush associate Terry Brown.

Despite a loyal fan base and the admiration of peers, Max Webster never broke big. Singer-guitarist Mitchell, helped by the MuchMusic exposure of his solo hits Go For a Soda and Patio Lanterns in the 1980s, achieved the level of success on his own that his old band Max Webster once seemed destined for.

With a gorgeous softcover coffee-table book, the beloved band gets its due – and then some. A forward by singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith – “They’ll always be my fave Canadian band” – precedes a 396-page tome of photographs, oral history and chronology. This is a labour of love that does not hide its heaping amounts of both.

Heartstrings: First Guitars, by Sean Barrette (self-published)

Famously, we know that Bryan Adams got his “first real six-string” at a five-and-dime store in the summer of 1969. That’s what the song says, anyway.

Knowing that people prize their firsts – kisses, cars and whatever Adams was alluding to – songwriter Sean Barrette asked guitarists to reminisce about an instrument that represented a first in their lives and careers. It could be the guitar on which they learned to play, the first purchased with their own money, the one used on their debut recording, even the guitar that got away.

An Elvis-obsessed Gordon Lightfoot bought a reasonably priced Harmony acoustic in an electrical store in his hometown of Orillia, Ont. Later, at age 17, with money earned from his summer job driving a truck, he purchased a more sophisticated model, a Martin D-28.

“Having a good guitar and keeping it in good shape is critical to getting it properly in tune and having the right intonation,” the late Lightfoot told the author. “You have to get the sound right, because 99 per cent of song writing is intonation.”

Barrette, of Sudbury, Ont., spoke to other well-known artists, including the late April Wine front man Myles Goodwyn: “My dad bought me a Norma acoustic guitar as my first guitar when I was about 14 years old. It was a Japanese copy of a Gibson Hummingbird. He bought the guitar at a store in Dartmouth, N.S., called Nieforth Furnishers.”

The book gathers stories from no-name musicians as well, and those, invariably, are the most affecting vignettes. For the guitar player in your life, forget the set of Ernie Ball Super Slinkys and go with Heartstrings instead. (Available at

You Get Bigger as You Go: Bruce Cockburn’s Influence and Evolution, by M.D. Dunn (Fermata Press)

If you’ve read Heartstrings by Sean Barrette, you know that Bruce Cockburn’s first guitar was a cheap, dusty thing found in his grandmother’s attic. If you read You Get Bigger as You Go: Bruce Cockburn’s Influence and Evolution by M.D. Dunn, you’ll get lessons on how to play guitar in the Cockburn style.

And good luck with that.

The guitar tutorials – yes, there are two – are typical of You Get Bigger as You Go, an atypical book. It is written as a long, gracefully meandering essay, or as a biography that considers its subject from hundreds of feet above: Big picture, but with an elegant intimacy and, occasionally, unexpected instruction.

The author is M.D. Dunn, a musician, poet and college teacher in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. He begins his book with a delightful anecdote about an old choir master who compared him to Cockburn. High praise? Not so much.

“Cockburn would benefit from elocution lessons,” the woman told him. “He sings with marbles. You sing like he does – like you are scoffing at the world.”

Cockburn was interviewed a number of times by the author. Asked how he goes about doing laundry knowing that millions of people think of him as a living legend, the 78-year-old singer-songwriter answered, “You can be a legend, or you can be present. You don’t get to be both. I don’t think too much about that legend-status thing.”

Others do.

December 20, 2023
The Sault Star

Dunn digs into Cockburn's music
by Brian Kelly

There’s times folk singer Bruce Cockburn brought tears to the eyes of a Sault College professor when writing a new book about the acclaimed musician.

Mark Dunn spent two days in August 2022 going through some of the archives of the Wondering Where the Lions Are hitmaker at McMaster University while preparing You Get Bigger as You Go: Bruce Cockburn’s Influence and Evolution.

“It was very emotional for me,” said the general arts and science professor. Dunn “got chills” and was “a little teary-eyed” reading the 12-time Juno winner’s journals and coming across songs in progress.

“You open the page and there’s the lyric of Lord of the Starfields,” said Dunn of the track featured on Cockburn’s In the Falling Dark from 1976. “To see that on the page written was moving. It was really moving to think this is the first time that this song was written out.”

He also found “fragments” of If I Had a Rocket Launcher from Cockburn’s 1984 album, Stealing Fire.

“He has a poet’s musicality with language,” said Dunn of Cockburn’s talent. “He can put a very complex idea into few words or a line. He has a novelist’s ability to get into various minds.”

Cockburn, he adds, offers listeners “poetic image, the novelist’s empathy and the journalist’s precision.

“Plus he’s just a fantastic musician,” he said “Sometimes you have a good songwriter who’s not such advanced musician, but this one you have both right there. He’s one of the best, easily.”

Dunn is a musician, too. His albums include The River Lately, Thursday’s Monster and Solace. He discovered Cockburn when he was 14 latching on to the 1975 album, Joy Will Find a Way.

“I was interested to see how his songs would develop over a period of time,” said Dunn. “You can see the songs kind of develop through his journal. You can see him working on these ideas through observations and then just suddenly, bam, there’s the whole lyric pretty much. It seems that once he gets it, the lyric is pretty much set in stone.”

Dunn did nearly seven hours of interviews by phone and Zoom with Cockburn. He also talked with musicians and producers Don Ross, Stephen Fearing and Jonathan Goldsmith who’ve worked with the Ottawa-born musician.

“He’s respected and he’s had good success and everything, but I still don’t think people quite understand how significant he is as an artist and an activist and a writer,” said Dunn.

While other musicians may make brief trips overseas to see hot spots first-hand, Cockburn was “right in there; with travels including stops in Chile, Mexico Nicaragua and Iraq.

“He gets in there,” said Dunn.

The “beginner’s guide” to Cockburn runs 240 pages and is published by Fermata Press. You Get Bigger as You Go is available at Sault Ste. Marie Museum and The Rad Zone.

Dunn plans a Cockburn listening party at the museum in February. Date is to be confirmed.

December 11, 2023

Years in the making, local author pens book on Canadian music icon

M.D. Dunn’s new book, 'You Get Bigger As You Go', explores the impact of Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn
by Chris Belsito

M.D. Dunn knows a thing or two about writing.

And about music.

The Bawating High School graduate went onto Algoma University to get his Bachelor of Arts, and then Wilfrid Laurier University for his Master of Arts.

He currently works at Sault College as a professor in the General Arts and Science program.

As a musician, he has released nine albums.

Dunn is an active freelance writer and has published three books of poems, most recently Even the Weapons (BuschekBooks).

His latest, You Get Bigger As You Go, focuses on Canadian singer-songwriter and activist Bruce Cockburn.

Cockburn has 17 albums certified gold in Canada, of which three are certified platinum.

He has sold more than seven million albums worldwide and has won 12 Juno Awards.

His songs range from deeply personal to overtly political, including classics like If I Had a Rocket Launcher, Lovers in a Dangerous Time, Last Night of the World, If a Tree Falls, and Wondering Where the Lions Are.

Bruce Cockburn is considered a Canadian folk icon.

Although Dunn remembers hearing Wondering Where the Lions Are on the radio, it wasn’t until he picked up an early Cockburn album that he began his connection to the artist. 

“When I was 14 years old, I found a cassette copy of Bruce's sixth album, Joy Will Find a Way [1975], in a discount bin at Records on Wheels in the Sault,” he says.

“I liked the cover illustration as it reminded me of a Cat Stevens album. There was no other info inside, and no internet of course. I fell in love with that album without knowing the artist or how many albums he had.”

Dunn’s early exploration of the artist’s catalogue led him to purchasing Cockburn’s World of Wonders [1986].

That album contained the hit, Call It Democracy.

At the time, the author remembers thinking of Cockburn’s music as a bit “intimidating.”

“I wasn’t ready for it,” he laughs.

It wasn’t until the 1990s when Dunn was a burgeoning songwriter himself that he really began digging into Cockburn’s catalogue.

“I deliberately sought out Bruce's albums,” he says.

“His lyrics are poetry. So, as I became interested in poetry, Bruce’s lyrics became more relevant to me. His guitar playing was a mystery and it blew me away. Still does.”

But it wasn’t just the music that Dunn respected.

“I always admired his humanitarian work and usually identified with his take on things. He is fearless and stands up to bullies, which is something to be admired.”

Even then, the thought of writing a book about Cockburn wasn’t something Dunn had on his radar.

“The writing happened organically,” says Dunn.

“I interviewed Bruce for a magazine called Canadian Dimension in 2014. He was generous and spoke for about two hours. After that, I wrote a few reviews for other publications about his memoir and album.”

In 2015, another chance to interview the singer-songwriter came about.

“I then set about a process of active listening to his entire catalogue. At the same time, I started noticing and remembering that people liked to talk about Bruce. So, I started keeping more notes. By 2016, I had quite a lot of material and realized this might be a longer project.”

Dunn told Bernie Finkelstein, Bruce Cockburn’s manager, that he was writing a book about the singer.

“He said that they wouldn't endorse it, but they wouldn’t work against me,” says Dunn.

“After a couple of years of interviewing Bruce for various publications and interviewing some of his collaborators, he asked to see a manuscript. [At that time] it was a wacky mess, part fiction with haiku reviews of albums, and way too much personal stuff. But he didn't shut it down and the manuscript grew and became more accessible.”

Dunn conducted five formal interviews with Cockburn between 2014 and 2020.

He also started keeping notes from the 10 or so Cockburn concerts he attended.

“I talked with lots of fans and have been able to interview many players and activists close to Bruce,” says Dunn.  

“I also got to hang out a bit backstage and at Cockburn’s sound checks.”

Dunn describes his new book of less of a biography, and more of a “beginner's guide and critical appreciation.”

“I wanted to investigate why and how music affects us so profoundly,” says Dunn.

“I have always been obsessed with guitar and writing, and wanted to examine this drive, and focused the pursuit as it manifests in Bruce Cockburn's music. I [also] knew a lot of his biography going in and my book doesn’t add to his personal story. What impressed me is that everyone I spoke with from Bruce's circle, musicians, producers, activists, are geniuses, absolutely brilliant, kind, engaged, and real people. I recognized that many of the people I spoke with had stories about Bruce that haven’t been told a whole lot.”

Dunn’s decision to name his book You Get Bigger As You Go, taken from the Cockburn song of the same title off the Humans [1980] album, connects to some of the process of creating this book.

Bruce Cockburn sings, “You get bigger as you go. No one told me. I just know. Bales of memory like boats in tow. You get bigger as you go.”

Whether it was intentional or not, the lyric connects Dunn’s experience of writing the book.

“I have begun to see the importance of faith in life. Not necessarily religious faith, but faith that creative impulses are worth pursuing,” he says.

“I have also learned, or noted, that it is important to pay attention to coincidences and to try to stay open to wonder. Cliché, maybe, but there is a good reason for that.”

Ultimately, Dunn is excited for people to be able to read the book.

“You never know if what you've done is any good,” says the writer.

“So, there is a concern that these years were not well spent, but it is also very exciting to finally have it out.”

As for having the opportunity to not only write this book, but write about an artist he greatly admires, Dunn is reflective.

“Bruce Cockburn is a gracious and humble person and he said he was touched that people are interested in his music.”

You Get Bigger As You Go has had an exceptionally good first week since its release, winding up on many online sales charts.

“The first week of availability has been marvellous,” says Dunn.

“Initial interest has been propelled by Bruce's popularity and fan base, so we shall see if it has legs.”

More information on M.D. Dunn and his book, You Get Bigger As You Go, can be found here.

December 3, 2023
Grateful Web

Bruce Cockburn at Lobero: A Fusion of Folk and Timeless Wisdom
by L. Paul Mann

The historic Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara celebrated its 150th anniversary with an exceptional performance on November 18th. Master songwriter Bruce Cockburn captivated the audience with a wide array of his hit songs, marking yet another remarkable event at this venue. The concert began with an exquisite opening act by Steve Postell, who showcased his multifaceted talents in singing, guitar playing, and songwriting. As a seasoned session musician familiar with the Lobero stage, Postell has performed there recently as part of the core band in a tribute concert to David Crosby, and with his long-standing band of fellow veteran session musicians, The Immediate Family. They are set to return to the Lobero after the New Year on February 14th. In his intimate solo set, Postell presented his songs with heartfelt introductions, offering a deeply personal touch to each piece. This set the stage perfectly for songwriting icon Bruce Cockburn. Postell, describing his relationship with Cockburn as both a friend and principal mentor, paved the way for the master to captivate the audience next.

As Bruce Cockburn's encore faded in the Lobero Theater, a profound sense of awe and respect permeated the air. The 78-year-old Canadian folk icon had just concluded a mesmerizing performance, defying both age and physical constraints, and demonstrating that true artistry transcends both time and circumstance.

Cockburn, taking center stage, presented a figure of quiet resilience; his lean frame bent over his guitar, with a leg thoughtfully propped on a suitcase for support. His experienced hands moved with precision across the guitar strings, eliciting both delicate and powerful melodies. Despite any physical challenges, Cockburn's spirit shone brilliantly. His voice, rich and full-bodied, carried the wisdom and depth that comes with years of life and musical experience.

His setlist was a masterful blend of beloved classics and fresh compositions, showcasing a career that spans over five decades. He opened with several tracks from his latest album, "O Sun O Moon," each song standing as a testament to his undiminished songwriting skill. These compositions, rich in poetic imagery and captivating melodies, highlighted Cockburn's enduring talent as a musician and storyteller.

As the evening unfolded, Bruce Cockburn journeyed through his extensive back catalog, breathing new life into some of his most cherished songs. Classics like "Wondering Where the Lions Are," "Going to the Country," and "Stolen Land" resonated through the theater. The audience, visibly moved, sang along with gusto, their voices blending with Cockburn's in a harmonious tapestry of shared nostalgia and emotion.

Cockburn's interactions with the audience were as enriching as his musical performances. His stage banter revealed the depth of his intellect and commitment to social causes. He spoke with eloquence about his activism, skillfully weaving the themes of his music with his dedication to social justice. Additionally, Cockburn's personal stories added a layer of intimacy to the evening, offering the audience a window into his life experiences and the creative forces driving his artistry.

In a moment of profound poignancy, Bruce Cockburn performed "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," a song that has deeply resonated with audiences for decades. His movements, slow and deliberate, especially while playing the hammer dulcimer, reflected his physical constraints. Despite this, Cockburn's voice soared magnificently, imbued with the enduring passion and conviction that have always been hallmarks of his performances. The contrast between his careful instrumentals and the powerful surge of his vocals created a deeply moving experience, illustrating the timeless impact of his music.

For the encore, Bruce Cockburn welcomed Steve Postell, his opening act, back to the stage. Together, they performed a selection of songs, their voices merging in a harmonious and inviting blend. This collaboration created a warm, engaging atmosphere, captivating the audience. The response was overwhelming, as the crowd erupted into thunderous applause, deeply moved by the performance.

As the final notes dissipated, a wave of gratitude swept through the audience. They had just experienced the artistry of a true musical legend – a man whose spirit and talent have remained untouched by the passage of time. Bruce Cockburn's concert served as a poignant reminder that true artistry is eternal, able to overcome physical barriers and resonate deeply with the human spirit.

Photo: L. Paul Mann

November 21, 2023
The Montecito Journal

The Divine Sounds of Bruce Cockburn
by Steven Libowitz

Singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn has released some 35 albums over his half-century career, enjoying enough success stateside to sustain making music, but also falling far short of the household name recognition of fellow Canadians like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, or even Gordon Lightfoot. 

Now at 78, Cockburn – whose catalog includes such transcendent love songs as “This is One of the Best Ones” and polemics like “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” – has released a new album, O Sun O Moon, that shares how time takes its toll and slipping the mortal coil, but also invites us “out of the armor and into the now” and exclaims when “push comes to shove, it’s all about love.” He talked about all of it in a far-reaching conversation from his San Francisco home in advance of a solo show at the Lobero Theatre on November 18. 

Q. Let’s just jump right in: How do you think your songwriting has changed and evolved over the years? 

A. The perspective I have now is as an old guy, and you can probably trace how that’s changed. But not the point of view. Opinions might be different, but it’s more a deeper understanding because when I was young, I didn’t really understand anything… The songs have always just been a product of the time in my life that they appear – triggered by what I encounter that produces a strong emotional response, and what happens in my heart and mind. 

Q. So is songwriting a way of processing, a method of making sense of the world and yourself, sorting that through in search of understanding, or more a way of communicating what’s internal?

A. I really only know after the fact… It’s not like I have something burning to get off my chest. But when I go for a long time without writing a song, I do feel choked up and confined. But it’s only with hindsight that I can see that a given song was processing something.

Q. You’ve been praised for the ability, more than most singer-songwriters, to balance between the outer and inner world, and the gritty details and the spiritual essence. Does that resonate? And if so, how do you navigate between them?

A. I’m aware of the degree to which being able to do that pleases me. It’s how I like to see things. I don’t think any good purpose is served by separating the day-to-day from the spiritual. I think they should mix, and they should influence each other, or at least the spiritual should influence the day-to-day. So it’s never very far from my line of thought, and therefore it shows up a lot in the songs no matter what I’m talking about. 

Q. What about the permeability of the inner and outer worlds? 

They’re not distinct at all. The phrase “my journey” sounds so grandiose, but I feel like it’s a thread that’s run through my life from the beginning of being self-aware that the membranes are permeable. The older I’ve gotten, there’s refinement of where I started. Early songs “Spring’s Song” and “Man of a Thousand Faces” I’m asking, “What is this? Where are we? What are we doing?” … I’ve always expressed my understanding of the need for a relationship with the divine. I feel like it’s clearer now, and the weight of it is more evident now.

Q. People tend to want to separate your catalog into political and personal songs. But you’ve shared that there’s no difference to you.

A. They’re all love songs. Even “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” – it’s a cry of pain, not hatred. I was expressing anger, but the last thing I wanted to do was go kill anybody. I wanted people to feel what it’s like to be in a situation like that, which is the point of art. Whether it’s something physical like a refugee camp under attack, or dealing with your own inner processes, you’re still singing your truth so that people might see things in new ways. Otherwise, why bother?

Q. How have you been able to maintain that equilibrium as our world has become even more polarized? You seem to still seek commonality, practice acceptance, and yearn for understanding. Someone else put it that you have a hope for a better world that you can’t shake. 

A. It’s more necessary than ever to allow any worthwhile thoughts and feelings about that out to where they can be heard. It’s not in the dialogue that we see around us, which is so fragmented – everybody’s talking at the mirror. I think it’s really important now to offset that in any way available… When an idea for a song like “Us All” comes along I jump on it, because it means something bigger than some of the other ones, which all have their own significance and meaning and importance to me personally. I really want to get that out there and heard… Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have enough self-confidence to think of myself as influencing people, which is an utterly foolish goal anyway. Or maybe it’s a dodge, I don’t want to accept the responsibility. But what I see myself doing is sharing what I have experienced, felt, questioned, and understood with whoever’s willing to listen. 

Q. Your new album has the thread of contemplating mortality, but you’ve been doing that for decades, going back at least to “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” which repeats the phrase “I’m thinking about eternity.”

A. It’s just part of the landscape… but you can’t help noticing that the horizon is getting closer all the time … My fear and my hope – the fear leads – is that when I get to that threshold and step over it, or I’m dragged over it, that I recognize the divine when it shows up. What that means in practical terms, I have no idea.

November 16, 2023

Nearing 80, singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn angles into mortality on ‘O Sun O Moon’
'The songs are written from the view of an old guy,' says the legendary Canadian musician. 'I invited people to notice.'

by Lou Fancher

If there are albums that cause a person to think about time and tone beyond tempo and a voice’s timbre, Bruce Cockburn’s O Sun O Moon is one of them. Its 12 tracks open onto galaxies of contemplation, with the 78-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter-guitarist now based in San Francisco musing on topics from aging to climate change. Common humanity prevails—track “Orders” reminds that “Our orders said to love them all.” Another song, “Us All,” has Cockburn crooning, “Open the vein, let kindness rain/O’er us all/O’er us all/O’er us all.”

The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame musician, whose 22 gold and platinum records have sold nine million copies worldwide, continues his penchant on this 38th album for crafting complex lyrics in marvelously simple, guy-in-a-bar-style language. Their sophistication lies under the surface, with each line honed to sleek essentialism. Cockburn’s impeccable guitar playing is given at this point in his career, but cannot be overlooked—the production elucidates the acoustic elements of his voice and guitar—and on one track, dulcimer—along with those of a stellar group of guest artists.

O Sun O Moon might be Cockburn’s most personal album—even his most optimistic. Songs contemplate the end of life, and puzzle over human inability to care adequately for each other, ourselves, the planet. Lyrics sometimes float, delivering soft scents that seem carried by winds from long ago. Yet at other times, words explode with hard-truth vigor.

“Most optimistic? I’d say I have no idea,” says Cockburn in an interview with 48 Hills. The rest of his reply displays his typical, straight-off-the-cuff dry humor, followed by practical reflection.

“I’d have to go back and listen to them all. But no, I think Dancing In The Dragon’s Jaw was a pretty optimistic record. All the ’70s albums are like that, and it gets darker as time goes on. This new one is certainly more optimistic-sounding than You’ve Never Seen Everything. It’s always been back and forth for me. This album doesn’t have too much tragedy, other than ‘Colin Went Down To The Water.’ That’s specific to being in Maui, when a friend drowned in a scuba accident, but it’s not the kind of tragedy we see all around the world today. If not the most optimistic, this album is certainly one of the more optimistic.”

With two exceptions—the song about his friend and one about global warming, written with Inuk singer Susan Aglukark, Cockburn says O Sun O Moon‘s tracks aren’t inspired by real-life people or happenings. The claim is mildly disingenuous. “On a Roll,” the album’s first track acknowledges an aging body’s crumbling infrastructure, a clear reference to the substantial back pain that has Cockburn fighting to get and remain vertical each day. “But in my soul/I’m on a roll,” the song concludes. Cockburn insists the album is not so much disassociation from human loss and environmental devastation as it is attention to internal tunings that have long been present in his music.

“It was the greater focus I’ve had during the last few years: the spiritual side of things that previously has always been there. That’s always been a conspicuous part of the songs, but there’s a point in your life where you feel you gotta go deeper. These songs reflect that intention, and I have no way to measure how deep I’ve got [he laughs], but the songs reflect that process. ‘O Sun O Moon’ and ‘When the Spirit Walks In the Room’ are certainly about the spiritual side.”

After not writing songs for an extended period of time, Cockburn spent a summer month hanging out with friends and family in a house they had rented on Maui. “The songs came out of getting up early, before everybody else, and sitting on the porch and looking at scenery and playing the guitar. The imagery in those songs reflect that experience. It’s the essence behind the scenery that’s really what the songs are about. They’re not attempts to produce descriptive landscape.”

He refers to “Push Comes To Shove” as “a more straight-up love song,” and says “King of the Bolero” just “came out of nowhere. That song started with an idea that came in San Francsico and had sat around in his notebook for a while—and a memory about a comment someone once made about a man of considerable heft whose double chin wrapped “all the way round his neck.”

That song most surprised Cockburn, who adds, “but it’s like they’re all a surprise; ‘When the Spirit Walks In the Room’ came in hour. I see those things as such a gift. They feel like a surprise; the ones that have to be worked on and take more time, less so. ‘King of The Bolero’ is so utterly non-autobiographical. It was typical of me back in the day, and reminded me of songs on my first two albums, songs like ‘Happy Good Morning Blues.’ There’s a kind of lighthearted surrealism. How vivid it is surprises me. You don’t have to think about it too much. Once the picture is there, it’s just a matter of painting it in.”

The album’s one instrumental piece “Haiku” was written in Maui; its title came from the name of the little village he stayed in.

“It’s another in a long line of guitar instrumentals I’ve come up with over the years. They come from a different process because they’re not triggered by lyrics. They’re triggered by stumbling on something, usually on the guitar. Trying a new tuning and seeing what comes out, for example.” In the case of “Haiku,” he was “stumbling” on what became the first phrase of the piece; moving double stops over a drone bass Cockburn has used in lots of songs.

“It was, where can I take this? It just built up from that. I give myself some sort of jamming room in instrumental pieces like this that aren’t so folky. When I wrote it initially, it was, ‘What can I get the guitar to do here?’ Then when it was almost done, I thought it would be nice if it had a bossanova feel to it. If you’d heard the guitar by itself, your imagination wouldn’t necessarily have taken it in that direction, but that’s where it went to for me. I wouldn’t have minded a little more of bossanova, but what we got was good.”

Asked about messaging, Cockburn says, “I wasn’t thinking of messaging so much, as the stuff that’s on my mind isn’t exclusive to me. We’re all thinking about the same stuff, and the older we get, the more proximate that horizon becomes. Mortality’s never been off the radar for me, from the get-go. I’ve always been aware that life ends. If I think about the actual moment, it makes me nervous. But the concept does not. The older I get, the balance shifts; there’s some reconciliation between those two things. The songs are written from the view of an old guy. I invited people to notice.”

What does a song do? Willing to admit songwriting is indirectly a way of getting people to notice him and his perspectives, Cockburn makes it clear as to what his songwriting is not.

“It’s not about persuading people, it’s about observing, and wanting to share the observation. We’re seeing protests, counterprotests, horrible behavior all over the place. We don’t thrive in that atmosphere. It would nice if we could all just step back, so there is in the songs that underlying feeling. That said, it wasn’t like I was deliberately thinking I had to say something about spirit or manifestations of the divine. It’s just what came up.”

Cockburn’s about to embark on an extensive North American and world tour, which includes appearances December 1 and 2 at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage. He says the most satisfying songs to play on the road are the new ones—“when I don’t screw them up.” “When You Arrive” is a gas, because he plays it as a sing-along.

“It cracks me up every night when I can hear a whole audience singing, ‘And the dead shall sing/To the living and the semi alive.’ People are bellowing it out and it’s really great,” he says.

The conversation ends with Cockburn saying he’s holding out not just to live for several more decades, but to reach his 500th birthday while still vertical—and writing songs. But before allowing him to return to his daily life (which includes picking his young daughter up from school), one question remains that the non-traditional Christian musician seems to have never been asked: about his favorite hymns. Also, would he most want to sing them during one’s final hours?

“One of them is partly a favorite by association: ‘A Closer Walk With Thee.’ You don’t hear it often these days, but I walked into church on a day before COVID when I wasn’t playing with the band. I came in and they were playing it. It was so cool to hear it as a swung song. It really worked. Another on is ‘Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.’ It comes at the end, and actually runs all the way through, the Coen Brothers’ movie True Grit. They use Iris Dement’s version of it in the soundtrack. It’s beautiful, partly because of the harsh context in which it comes up in the film. It’s a favorite of mine. I’m trying to get my daughter to learn it.

“‘Peace in the Valley,’ I’ve loved that ever since I heard Elvis Presley do it in the ’50s. I actually do know how to play that one. If I get around to doing my imaginary album with the writing of other people’s stuff, that’ll be on it. It’s a Thomas A. Dorsey song and he wrote it for Mahalia Jackson. Her version, the one they recorded, sounds like they did it the way they felt they should. Maybe I’m biased because I’m so attached to the original version I heard, which was Elvis’. I’d have my daughter do that with me too, because she’d be more reliable.”

BRUCE COCKBURN plays December 1 and 2 at Freight & Salvage, Berkeley.

November 1, 2023
The Total Scene

Acclaimed musician Bruce Cockburn talks about new album and career ahead of shows in Chicago
by Eric Schelkopf

His introspective and passionate songwriting has won Bruce Cockburn acclaim from music lovers across the world. 

As he shows on his latest album, "O Sun O Moon," the 78-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist still has plenty to say. Cockburn will likely perform many of his new songs when he plays Nov. 3 and 4 at Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 North Lincoln Ave., Chicago, as part of a nationwide solo tour.

The shows start at 8 p.m. and tickets are available at Old Town's website, I had the privilege of interviewing Cockburn about the album and his career.

Q – It is an honor talking to you. I have had the pleasure of interviewing musicians who cite you as an influence, including Ruth Moody, who is a member of the band The Wailin’ Jennys, which in 2010 performed as part of a tribute concert to you. Is it humbling to be honored by your fellow musicians?

It certainly is. I've had great respect for Ruth and the rest of her gang for years and we've had the occasional opportunity to perform together, which was great.

I take all that stuff with a grain of salt. It is an honor and it feels really good to have people want to sign up for something like that and then perform the songs.

But I don't do what I do to get that sort of stuff. But it certainly is a nice thing.

Q – Have you had musicians come up to you and say that they became a musician because of you?

I don't think I've heard those exact words, but certainly I've heard from people who have said that I had an effect on what they did. That's mostly a third person kind of thing, like it will show up in an article somewhere.

Q – Your song “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” came out in 1984 during the Cold War. Do you think we live in more dangerous times these days or equally as dangerous?

Well, it's hard to make that call. I don't think that the world has ever been free of the kinds of dangers that we see around us, other than the environmental one.

I guess the world has seen climate change before, but not in a way that we're seeing it now and not with the effects on us that we're seeing now, or potential effects. So that's different.

But otherwise, war and mayhem have always been with us as a species. But one thing I think we really have to think hard about is charity and compassion and fairness. 

We have to try to resist the temptation to be drawn into positions of rage and hate.

Q – You address some of the problems that society is facing today in your song “Orders” off your latest album. In a previous interview, you talked about the song’s meaning and about the importance of loving each other. Do you see the song as a reminder of that?

When the idea for the song came to me, it seemed like this was something that really needed to be said right now. That and the song "Us All" were ideas that wanted me to put them in songs and put them out there.

That's how it felt. 

Q – Is the song “On A Roll” a celebration of what one can accomplish at any age?

I wasn't really thinking about it in term of accomplishments, other than survival. But I suppose that's a kind of accomplishment.

I think of that song as a very personal one and I think other people can relate to it in their own personal way. I mean, anybody who's over a certain age will get that song.

Q – Do you think a song like “To Keep the World We Know” can help convince people that climate change is real?

I doubt it. It might, I guess.

I wouldn't rule it out. But I don't think that's the expected effect of a song like that.

For me, I don't think songs by themselves have that power. If people are sort of sitting and wondering about it or giving it some thought and a song like that comes along, it can push them in the right direction.

But if they're resistant to the idea of climate change, then they're just not going to like the song. 

Q – In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

The intention is to make the best album that we can. When I say we, I mean me and in this case, Colin Linden, who produced "O Sun O Moon," and whoever is playing on the album. Everybody wants it to be good. 

And that's the goal. I make an album when I have enough songs to make an album.

Q – Do you think that a solo tour like the one that you are on allows you to better connect with the audience? I watched a video from your Oct. 11 show at FirstOntario Concert Hall where you ended your show with a new song, “Us All.” It seems like the audience was listening intently to the song.

It's been really great, the acceptance of the new stuff. The show is peppered with songs from the new album and people are responding really well to them.

So I'm happy about that. It seemed like just an obvious song to close the show with. 

We spent 2 1/2 hours in this room together and that's a microcosm of the rest of us as well.

Q – On a solo tour, it's just pretty much you and your guitars. Do you think that connects you better with the audience because they are only concentrating on you and your guitars and your songs?

I think so. There are people I hear from who prefer the band shows. They like the energy and stuff like that.

There's elements of a performance that take away from the focus on the song. In the solo situation, it's all on the song.

The attention is on the song and the lyrics. And that's a good thing, in my book.

Q – You've done so much in your life. Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

Well, the one thing I may or may not ever get around to doing that I would like to do is an album of other people's songs. And I have a small list of those that I might want to record someday.

What I look for is the next idea. It's more about waiting for an idea.

I like touring. It's what I've always done and it's where the songs really become their true selves.

I like doing it, but at this point in my life, it requires more focused energy to get that show done than it used to. I don't have the energy for other stuff very much while I'm doing this or the time, for that matter.

I've got a busy life apart from this. 

It's just a question of waiting. I don't really make plans and I never have.

Q – Because you also have an 11-year-old child, right? That must keep you busy as well, I would imagine.

She's about to turn 12. Yeah, it does. It's part of a generalized life picture that is busy.

October 20, 2023
Rutland Herald

‘It’s kind of like scoring a film for me’: Singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn in concert
By Janelle Faignant, Arts Correspondent

It’s not unusual for Bruce Cockburn to go to bed at night and wake up with a song.

He’s written more than 350 songs, releasing 35 albums over a 50-year career, and sometimes, the songs come to him in a dream.

“I wouldn’t say frequently, but it’s not that unusual either,” Cockburn said in a recent phone interview in anticipation of his upcoming show at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27.

It’s not the first time a musician has said an idea came from a dream, and Cockburn laughed and said, “It’s a good source of stuff you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.”

The title track of his latest album “O Sun O Moon” came just that way. And it has a dreamy quality, with its slow, rolling tempo and spoken-word voiceover through most of it. “A dream pregnant with portent,” it begins.

“The chorus came when I was writing down the elements of the dream into a song shape,” said Cockburn (pronounced CO-burn), adding that anything that produces a strong emotional reaction can inspire lyrics. “It could be love or pain or tragedy or rage or whatever it is.”

“Mostly it’s waiting around for a good idea,” he explained. “And I’m referring to the lyrics at this point because the songs start with lyrics, so I have to wait for a lyric idea, and when I get one, I wrestle with it, try to make it into something, and when there’s enough on paper to see where it’s going then I start looking for music to carry it. That’s the general pattern.”

“It’s kind of like scoring a film for me. You have imagery and maybe characters and one can be supported by the music but not obscured by it. That’s the approach I take.”

Sometimes a whole song can materialize in an hour, other times it takes much longer to finish the lyrics or find the right melody. “It’s really unpredictable,” he said.

But it works.

Cockburn made his debut with music for the feature film “Goin’ Down the Road” in 1970, and his LPs “Bruce Cockburn,” “High Winds, White Sky” and “Sunwheel Dance” rose to national prominence.

He’s been compared to Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Jackson Browne, and reminded me of Simon and Garfunkel. Many artists have covered Cockburn’s songs, including Barenaked Ladies and Jimmy Buffett. And after 35 albums and hundreds of songs, Cockburn has a huge catalogue to choose from in coming up with a set list.

“It’s a little tricky,” Cockburn said. “There’s always some emphasis on whatever’s current. In this case the songs from ‘O Sun O Moon’ will represent a significant chunk of the show. But I also feel bound to include songs that people have indicated they particularly like over the years because people will feel ripped off if they don’t hear some of that stuff.

“Whatever space is left over that will get filled with older things that I feel like doing, that seem to fit with the general theme — I don’t think of the shows as having a theme really, but it’s good to have some sort of intellectual and emotional consistency through it, so songs that will fit into that,” he said.

“Older songs might come around that I haven’t done for a long time and then I get excited about doing those, especially if I’ve discovered some fresh way to do it. But most of the time I just like singing the new stuff best.”

At 77, Cockburn hasn’t slowed down, remaining a prolific, inspired songwriter, with musical diversity that embraces folk, jazz and rock. Waiting on the muse has served him well. “Time takes its toll,” he sings in the opening song on his latest album, which came out earlier this year.

“But in my soul, I’m on a roll.”

October 5, 2023
The Hamilton Spectator

Bruce Cockburn takes us on a leisurely walk to the gates of heaven
by Graham Rockingham

The final track on Bruce Cockburn’s latest album “O Sun O Moon” is an old-timey singalong called “When You Arrive.”

Backed by saxophone, clarinet and six backing vocalists, Cockburn plucks out a ragtime rhythm on guitar while delivering the chorus in a gravelly somnambulance, a slight uptick at the end of each line.

“The dead shall sing, to the living and the semi-alive
“Bells will ring, when you arrive”

It’s a fun song, despite the morbid lyrics. After all, there’s no beating death. It comes to everyone, so you might as well take it in stride. Laugh at the inevitable.

Let’s hope Cockburn sings it Oct. 11 when he performs a solo show at Hamilton’s FirstOntario Concert Hall. Imagine a full house singing along, celebrating our mortality, maybe even hoping there’s something more than … well … just death.

At 78, Cockburn has reason to have such things on his mind. Like the rest of us, he’s aging. Cockburn is on the phone from his home in San Francisco, where he has lives with his wife M.J. and their 11-year-old daughter, Iona.

So Bruce, do you encourage a singalong when you perform “When You Arrive?”

“Oh yeah, as much as possible and it’s so much fun when it works,” he said. “When everybody gets singing in it, it’s such a great feeling — that the inevitability of it can be sung about in a cheerful way. It’s fun.”

Mortality and morality are two dominant themes in “O Sun O Moon.” Why not focus on the two big M-words? Once you reach a certain age, they’re even bigger than those other M-words, marriage and mortgage. We all have to face what awaits us at the end, and whether we’ve lived a life worthy of its gifts.

“When You Arrive” dovetails nicely with its preceding track, the more sombre “O Sun by Day O Moon By Night,” gospel-tinged hymn chronicling the narrator’s walk to the gates of heaven.

Cockburn is a Christian and the morality of his faith has woven its way through his work since the early ’70s.

So one has to ask: Bruce, do you believe in heaven?

“Pearly gates and streets paved in gold? No, not that heaven,” Cockburn responded. “But I think there is … well … I have no idea what it is. All of the attempts people have made to depict it in words or imagery, nobody can really get a handle on it. I like to think that there is something within us that persists, that there is a consciousness attached to that element of perception. There may not be, but I don’t think there’s anything to lose by hoping there is.

“I think we go somewhere. Maybe all I’m really talking about is the dissipation of our energy into the cosmos.”

It’s nice to know even Bruce Cockburn — revered as a virtuoso guitarist and one of Canada’s greatest songwriters — doesn’t have the answer to everything. He is sure of one thing, however: the need to conduct ourselves on earth with love, understanding and forgiveness, even toward ones who don’t necessarily deserve it.

Here’s a verse from the track “Orders.”

“The sweet, the vile, the tall, the small
“The one who rises to the call
“The list is long as I recall
“Our orders said to love them all”

Similar sentiments can be found throughout the album on songs like “Us All” and “When the Spirit Walks into the Room.”

“I was glad to get the ideas for songs like ‘Us All’ or ‘Orders’ to address something that I think is a huge problem, it’s not a new problem, but the manifestation of it as I encounter it now in the United States, is not something I grew up with.

“This divisiveness, I think, has been encouraged deliberately by various elements and it’s very dangerous and unpleasant, so the songs were intended to address that.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Bruce Cockburn album without some politics thrown into the mixture and the lead single “To Keep the World We Know,” co-written and sung with Susan Aglukark, portrays a world literally on fire. Despite the song’s lyrics of impending environmental doom, the song carries an upbeat, bouncy melody.

“That was sort of intentional,” Cockburn explained. “Everybody’s aware of this stuff at this point. It’s not like we have to convince anyone. It’s more about the focus. It’s not an angry rant or a mournful lament, it’s let’s get on this, let’s do something. So a hopeful element was appropriate.”

As Cockburn edges toward an eighth decade on the planet — “I hear 80 is the new 60,” he joked — he has no idea whether he has another album in him. He knows, however, he can still perform. And gain some joy from it.

When asked if he felt nervous, up on stage all alone with just his guitars and a microphone to back him, Cockburn chuckles.

“It’s easier than when I was young,” he said. “Then it was terrifying. Now it’s just a little bit frightening and it gets less frightening as the tour goes on. But I like what I do and I’m glad to be able to keep on doing it. I’m grateful for that.”

“Time takes its toll
“But in my soul
“I’m on a roll”

From “On a Roll,” opening track on Cockburn’s latest album “O Sun O Moon.”

Photos: Daniel Keebler

August 31, 2023
Durango Telegraph

An Americana icon 
Folk Fest headliner on climate change, indigenous rights and summer road trips
by Chris Aaland

The Four Corners Folk Festival brings award-winning folk, bluegrass, rock and more to Reservoir Hill in Pagosa Springs this weekend for the 27th time since its inception in 1996. The lineup is rich in legends like 13-time Juno Award winner Bruce Cockburn and Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductee Peter Rowan, but equally strong in up-and-coming stars like indie-folk sensation Amythyst Kiah, hip-hop/bluegrass genre-benders Gangstagrass and hipster New York City indie-grassers Damn Tall Buildings.

There are plenty of longtime festival favorites returning, including Cruz Contreras, who played the festival numerous times with his past bands, The Black Lillies and Robinella & the CCstringband; acclaimed country songwriter Jim Lauderdale; and Songs From the Road Band, which will back Lauderdale on Friday and play its own set Saturday.

There’s even local flavor with Birds of Play and Liver Down the River, as well as Tewa/Hopi reggae singer Ed Kabotie. The festival’s organizer, KSUT Public Radio, was founded in 1976 as one of the nation’s first tribal radio stations and remains committed to bringing indigenous artists from a variety of genres to its festivals.

Single-day, weekend, camping and vehicle passes are on sale at and, starting Friday, at the front gate.

The main draw, however, is Cockburn, who spent some time with me via Zoom to discuss recent environmental disasters, indigenous issues and how, at age 78, he sees no need to slow down from touring and recording. He even took time to share parenting advice (Bruce has an 11-year-old daughter; mine is 9).

Cockburn released his 38th album this past May. Driven by the lead single, “On a Roll,” it has remained on the Americana Music Association’s Top 50 albums and singles charts ever since. He calls it an old guy’s song that looks at his own frustration with the current state of affairs worldwide.

“The fragmentation that we see is somewhat spawned by the internet and the polarization in the U.S. in particular, but it’s worldwide, too,” he lamented. “There’s an acceleration of anti-democratic and anti-humanity forces that’s so broad that people are frightened about it. That fear is translating itself into insularity, hostility and just an unwillingness to listen to anybody else’s point of view.”

Cockburn, who is originally from Ottawa, teamed up with Inuit singer/songwriter Susan Aglukark to draft the album’s second single, “To Keep the World We Know.” Throughout his six decades as a professional musician, Cockburn has only written with others a handful of times.

“It was fun!” he exclaimed of collaborating with Aglukark. “It’s something I haven’t done very much of over the years, very few co-writes. I’m happy with the way it came out, and I think she is, too.”

The song explores global warming, forest fires and other natural disasters on a global scale.

In the second verse, they sing “Hills of California/ Romania and France/Algeria, Australia/Siberia’s expanse/The countryside of Greece and Spain/The Amazon the same/From the tundra to the tropics/Our world’s gone up in flames,” foretelling devastating fires in Yellowknife and Lahaina.

“I think we’ve let it go a bit too long to do much about it,” he pondered when I asked if it’s too late to correct the manmade acceleration of global warming. “We’re seeing changes now that we can’t reverse. And it’s going to get worse if we don’t address those things. The fact that we can’t reverse the things we’re seeing is not a reason for giving up, because it will continue to keep changing.”

Working with Aglukark shed some indigenous wisdom into a contemporary global issue, but it’s far from the first time Cockburn has addressed the horrors that Native Americans and First Nations people have seen since the arrival of Europeans in the 1400s. Songs like “Red Brother Red Sister,” “Kit Carson,” “Stolen Land” and “Indian Wars” are among highlights of his canon.

I asked if North Americans of European descent are recognizing the original sins of their forefathers. Cockburn thought that while individuals are becoming more aware of the dark past of American and Canadian governments, there’s still a long way to go. He first heard of these atrocities not in school in Ontario, but after heading west as a touring musician. 

“I became aware of the kinds of lives that my indigenous peers had led in the early ’70s, when I first started traveling in western Canada,” he said. “In 1970, I traveled west for the first time and began to meet people my age, other musicians who had grown up as a product of the reserve system and residential school system. One friend I can think of was taken from his parents and put up for adoption and not allowed to go back to his town. It was really disturbing to hear. It really opened my eyes. From that point on, it became a matter of concern for me.

“We talk about social justice, and we rightly look at so-called Third World countries where there’s all kinds of stuff going on, but we’ve paid less attention to our own here at home and the injustices that persist,” he added. “It’s one that hopefully we can rectify to some extent. We can certainly find a more just and equitable relationship with indigenous communities and individuals than we’ve done so far.”

When I asked if he contemplated slowing down as he approaches 80, Cockburn laughed. “What would retirement consist of? Sitting around and doing what I do at home instead of going out and doing it for other people,” he chuckled. “That’s kind of where the fun is, and that’s how I get paid. I don’t see stopping anytime soon.”

At 78 years old, he still likes to get behind the wheel and see new places.

“I just drove to Ontario and back (from my home in San Francisco),” he said. “My 11-year-old daughter was going to summer camp for the second year. We decided that we would drive up, she and I, so that she can see what’s between here and there. She’s been on tour busses since she was 2 months old but it’s in the dark. You get on the bus after the gig and you wake up in the next town. I think she appreciated it. I had to wrestle with her to get her nose out of the book or out of the iPad.”

Traveling with his daughter has rewards, especially for a father whose child loves geography.

“She can tell you the capitals of every country in the world and where they are on the map. We have a dinnertime contest that we play for our own amusement. We start with all the countries that start with A and take turns and name them until we run out, and then go to another letter until we work our way through the alphabet.”

Cockburn and I worked through our personal favorites from his catalog, finding some common ground. “‘The Charity of Night’ and ‘Breakfast in New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu’ are always among my favorites,” he agreed. “If I were to steer someone to my oeuvre it might be those two, or it might be ‘World of Wonders,’ ‘In the Falling Dark’ or ‘Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws.’ Those are pretty representative of what I’ve done through the years.”

Being somewhat of a Cockburn fanboy since the mid ’80s, I couldn’t let him off the hook without inquiring about his identifiable tone as a guitarist. 

“The style I developed is kind of idiosyncratically mine,” he admitted, adding it was something every guitarist develops in his or her own way. “I had the radio going on my drive across the Midwest the other day. Something by Van Halen came on, and I don’t know their records at all, but you just knew right away that was Eddie Van Halen. Nobody else sounds like that. Some people have described it as just being in the fingers. It’s the way you touch the instrument, the way your fingers go against the strings, the way you pluck the strings.”

Amazingly, when Cockburn closes down the Dan Appenzeller Memorial Stage at 8:45 p.m. Friday, it will mark his first time in Pagosa Springs, although he has performed in Durango, Mancos and Telluride a few times through his career, and three or four trips to Ignacio for live on-air sessions in the KSUT studios.

“I haven’t been to the Four Corners enough for my own satisfaction,” he said. “I love that part of the U.S., and I fell in love with the idea of the Four Corners as a concept when I started reading Tony Hillerman’s detective novels. He just painted that atmosphere so well. I look forward to seeing everybody down in Pagosa Springs.”

Full discloser: Chris Aaland is the development director, music director, talent buyer and an on-air DJ at KSUT Public Radio. Chris’ first experience with live concert production was loading stage gear for Cockburn’s 1997 gig at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College – the first ticketed event at what was then a brand-new venue. ?

August 22, 2023
Press Release

Round Hill Music adds iconic Canadian masters catalogs to its repertoire with acquisition of Linus Entertainment

Round Hill Music LP (“Round Hill” or the “Company”), the integrated music company founded in 2010 that manages songs with a value of circa $1.2 billion, announces that it has acquired Linus Entertainment, the Canadian independent music company whose repertoire includes the music recording and publishing catalogs of Borealis Records, Mummy Dust Music Ltd, Solid Gold Records, Stony Plain Records, The Children’s Group and True North Records, as well as the distribution company Independent Digital Licensing Agency Inc (IDLA). The investment includes a catalogue of over 3,000 songs and 20,000 master recordings.

Linus Entertainment was established in 2000 by former Virgin Records A&R director and Warner Chappell Publishing Creative Director, Geoff Kulawick, and includes the exclusive rights to numerous popular rock, blues, folk, jazz and global artists’ recordings.

These include recordings from Big Wreck, the Canadian-American Rock band whose 1997 debut album reached double platinum certification; Canadian singer songwriter and Canadian Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Cockburn;  Buffy Sainte-Marie, the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award winner whose songs have been recorded by Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker; Blues Rock singer songwriter Colin James, who has had several international hit singles and whose 2016 album Blue Highways spent 10 weeks at number one on the Roots Music Report’s Blues Chart; Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Gordon Lightfoot; Natalie MacMaster, the multi-time winner of Artist of the Year at the Canadian Music Awards who has had three albums reach gold certification in Canada and who has toured with Carlos Santana, the Chieftains and Faith Hill; American Blues guitarist, Ronnie Earl whose band, Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, has released 26 albums over 40 years; folk musician and singer songwriter, Stan Rogers, who was a pioneer of Canada’s independent music scene; and triple Grammy award winning Blues musician Taj Mahal.

The acquisition, undertaken on behalf of Round Hill Music Royalty Fund III LP, continues the Company’s focus on recorded music investments. Earlier this year, Round Hill made several frontline investments in new recordings by artists such as The Record Company, Neon Trees, Candlebox, and Better Than Ezra which are due for release this year on Round Hill Records and Black Hill Records.

Josh Gruss, CEO at Round Hill Music LP said: “This investment includes some of the most celebrated music and performers to come out of Canada and supports our strategy of investing in and supporting the growth of iconic music. The opportunity Linus Entertainment presented to us was truly a one off and we are very excited to have these incredible Canadian artists included in the Round Hill stable.”

Geoff Kulawick, Founder of Linus Entertainment said: “Having built Linus Entertainment up over the past two decades, now is the right time for us to hand the reins over to a partner that we know will oversee it with passion and care. Round Hill has a strong reputation with an excellent team and we are confident that the business and, importantly, the music, is in good hands from here.”

Linus Entertainment was advised by Birchmount Capital Partners Inc, Sheppard Brown and Stikeman Elliott while Selverne Bradford PLLC acted on behalf of Round Hill Music.

August 2023
San Diego Troubadour

The Mystic as Activist (or Vice Versa): Bruce Cockburn Is Still Looking for the Lions
by Barry Alfonso

Bruce Cockburn is the guy who wondered where the lions were. Then he asked for a rocket launcher. That was almost 40 years ago. He’s done a great deal since then, but those two songs—as different as a cheery hello and a punch in the face—still define him for many. If you’ve followed Cockburn’s career more closely, you know that his personae as the bemused, inward-dwelling mystic and the angry transnational activist exist on an artistic spectrum where one informs the other. Among the singer-songwriters of his generation, Cockburn is an artist who slips between borders, avoids close affiliations, and keeps himself free to blend into another scene. He has always been more than the sum of his sometimes-clashing personae, making him seem both open-hearted and elusive at once.

A brief overview: Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Cockburn spent an apprenticeship with various Canadian rock bands before going solo and releasing his eponymous debut album in 1970. A string of mostly vocal/acoustic guitar-centered releases followed, with jazzier embellishments added by the mid-1970s. Mostly overlooked in the U.S. during this time, he suddenly broke through with the whimsical, Jamaican-accented Top 30 single “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” taken from his excellent 1979 LP Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. Critics made note of Cockburn’s Christian faith, though its impact on his songs was usually indirect. Rather than continue to release albums as a typical “sensitive singer-songwriter,” he made a hard left turn into political commentary in the early ’80s. Outrage at First World militarism and corporate greed spawned tunes like “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” and “Fascist Architecture.” Though he added synthesizers and other MTV-era touches, Cockburn remained an acoustic folkie at heart—his fluent and often dazzling guitar playing was always a highlight of his work. In the 1990s, he brought together his spiritual reflections and social justice concerns on a series of memorable albums, with Nothing but a Burning Light and The Charity of Night particularly standing out. Subsequent projects have found Cockburn adept at everything from spoken-word passages to evocative instrumentals, all bound together with a cool yet committed intelligence that seemed at once worldly wise and deeply humane.

Cockburn’s latest album, O Sun O Moon, is very much in his tradition of thoughtful commentary, spiritual yearning, and slightly rueful self-reflection. At 78 years old, the artist is working within his limits—arthritis has forced him to find new chords and otherwise modify his still-masterful guitar playing. If time has brought him physical challenges, it hasn’t narrowed his perspective or caused him to flinch in the face of mortality. “You’re limping like a three-legged canine/Backbone creaking like a cheap shoe,” he sings with droll languor as he considers the afterlife in “When You Arrive.” “To Keep the World We Know” (a collaboration with Inuit singer-songwriter Susan Aglukark) is a warning against imminent disaster very much in the tradition of Cockburn’s earlier protest pieces. The dominant mood here, though, is one of acceptance, redemption, and transcendent love. He finds a way to embrace “the pastor preaching shades of hate” and “the self-inflating head of state” in “Orders” without closing his eyes to their failings—or his own. He looks toward an ultimate interweaving of humanity’s clashing colors: “We’re all threads upon the loom/When the spirit walks in the room…”

One of the most interesting things about Cockburn is how his perspective about life and the role of artist changed as he grew older. As he tells it, the breakup of his first marriage and touring beyond North America forced him to mature out of folkie insularity and open his eyes to the harsher realities of the world. “On the very earliest albums I really sound like a kid from the’60s,” he told me in a recent phone interview. “I hear it in my voice as much as anything. I was inwardly focused then; I paid attention to the spiritual stuff, which seemed appropriate and still does, but I didn’t really understand people at all. I’ve come to understand a lot more about that as time has gone on, and I can hear the difference in the songs.”

As he ventured out of his shell, Cockburn began to see himself as a kind of musical correspondent, reporting from scenes of conflict and suffering and bearing witness with a minimum of preachiness. A trip to Central America under the sponsorship of the charity Oxfam in the early ’80s particularly opened his eyes. Calling what he wrote “documentary poetics” rather than protest songs, he filled albums like Stealing Fire (1984) and World of Wonders (1986) with reportage from Chile, Germany, Italy, the Caribbean, and other locales. Through it all, he tried to be accurate rather than strident about the injustices he saw—a stance even harder to maintain today thanks to the stark political divisions of the moment.

“I think the challenge is to find a non-polarized point of view from which to view it all,” he says. “That point of view is available to everybody, but it can be a little tricky to get there, because we all feel the emotional impact of the stuff that’s around us. It requires a certain intellectual rigor—if your own spirit doesn’t get you through, then your brain has to do so. I think it shows up in some of the new songs, like ‘Orders,’ which comments on the current goings-on from a position of not judging or at least not confronting in a hostile way. Hopefully, a lot of people are going to be doing that, because otherwise, we’re in a lot of trouble, even more than we’re in now.”

There are some pieces of musical reportage that Cockburn would file differently today. “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” was composed after he toured a Guatemalan refuge camp in Mexico. Its lyrics were written from the viewpoint of a displaced victim of government terrorism—but listeners have sometimes taken it as a personal statement by the artist. “That song has been greatly misunderstood by many people,” he says. “It’s the kind of song I would only write once—it came out of sharing the time and space with people whose life experience is totally different from mine. I would be very hesitant to risk being misunderstood that way again. I didn’t write it to incite people to shoot Guatemalan soldiers. It was more of a cry of horror at how easy it is to get into that mindset. With that mindset all over the place right now, everybody knows how easy it is and they don’t need me to help them.”

(In 2009, Cockburn performed “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” in Afghanistan, where his brother John was stationed with Canadian troops. The commanding officer presented Bruce with a rocket launcher, which he chose not to keep.)

Cockburn’s particular take on Christian faith has likewise caused some confusion over the decades. His beliefs always had a mystical tinge that emphasized spiritual joy rather than sectarian dogma. When his music became better known in the U.S., he made his contempt for right-wing Moral Majority preachers like Jerry Falwell clear. Always open to insights gleaned from other faiths, he gradually drifted away from church attendance. Though spiritual references never disappeared from his songwriting, O Sun O Moon reflects a renewed interest in Christian worship with fellow believers.

After moving from Ontario to Northern California with his wife and young daughter in 2009, Cockburn began attending the San Francisco Lighthouse, a non-denominational Protestant church whose inclusive message resonated with his own outlook: “I hadn’t gone to church in decades, but I was led to this church and to a renewed focus on the spiritual realm. It partly has to do with age—the approach of that horizon is something you can’t ignore.”

Intimations of mortality are found throughout O Sun O Moon, offered with a mixture of awe, acceptance, and wry humor. Particularly haunting along these lines is “Colin Went Down to the Water,” a hymn-like tune inspired by a tragic incident: “It’s about a friend of mine. We’d made plans to get together in Maui. I phoned him when I arrived—it was Wednesday, and we were going to meet for a drink the next Monday. On Saturday, I got a call from a mutual acquaintance. He told me that Colin had drowned in a scuba diving accident. I went back and listened to a voicemail he’d left me: ‘Hello, Bruce, this is Colin. Welcome to heaven!’ He wasn’t a close friend, but he was a good guy and hearing that was strange and moving.”

Cockburn embraces his status as a musical elder with grace and a definite ocular twinkle. These days, he sports a long snowy-white patriarchal beard worthy of Father Time (or David Letterman). At a June 2023 solo acoustic concert in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, he came on stage with the aid of two canes and remained seated during his set. As fans shouted out requests, he explained that there were certain songs his arthritis kept him from playing, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” among them. That noted, Cockburn more than acquitted himself on guitar during a set that featured tunes from his earliest albums as well as his most recent work. Switching from six- and 12-string guitars to dulcimer and dobro, he moved easily among the eras and phases of his complex and sometimes paradoxical career. Reaching back to one of his earliest LPs, he sang “Everywhere I go, the blues got the world by the balls,” lyrics that seemed accurate when he first recorded them in 1973 and are probably even more so today.

If not closure, Cockburn seemed to be finding unity in the disparate phases of a half-century’s worth of music-making, looking forward and glancing back simultaneously. When we spoke, I asked him if there was something he might say to the Bruce Cockburn of 1970. “Don’t be so fearful,” he quickly replied. “I would say that a lot of the stuff you think is really important doesn’t matter that much.” This led to advice for beginner artists: “Keep your integrity. You can entertain people and be truthful. You can say, ‘I’m going to write a song that rhymes with whatever so I can have a hit’ and that might work, but it won’t work for you for long.”

Bruce Cockburn has made his unique blend of heavenly aspirations and gritty poetic reportage work rather well for over 50 years. Between the lions and the rocket launchers and beyond, he has covered a lot of ground as well as considerable inner space. He remains a traveler between worlds and a messenger who speaks multiple spiritual languages. “With songwriting and performing, there’s that leap where you hope you’re giving people something that suits them,” he says. “I’ve been doing it long enough that you’d think I would have got it by now. But you never quite get it. There’s always something to learn.”

Bruce Cockburn will be performing at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica on November 17, 2023.

Bruce was interviewed by Canadian Musician Magazine on April 24, 2023. The interview was published in the July / August issue

June 30, 2023
Cashbox Magazine Canada

Bruce Cockburn and Dar Williams - The Royal Oak Music Theatre (USA)
by Mark Dunn

To celebrate the release of his twenty-seventh studio album, the gorgeous O Sun O Moon, Bruce Cockburn will perform more than forty solo shows this year throughout North America and into the U.K. It is an ambitious schedule for any performer. At seventy-eight, with profound osteoarthritis and a congenital condition that limits his mobility, Cockburn sounds better than ever. His voice is clear and strong with a richer tone and perhaps greater range than in younger days. And his guitar playing, although not as acrobatic as it was forty years ago, is jaw-dropping. Playing the Royal Oak Music Theatre in Royal Oak, Michigan, in mid-June, the Canadian-born California resident demonstrated why he is recognized as one of the most important singer-songwriters and outstanding guitarists of his generation.

The evening began with a set by Dar Williams, who has opened every show on this leg of the tour. Williams is a beloved songwriter. A marvellous storyteller and singer, Williams had the audience in her corner from the start. Having Williams open for Bruce Cockburn is a dream ticket for the folk community. Her stories often begin in the middle of the action, like the continuation of a conversation started long before, and segue artfully into song. A wry wit, both gentle and cutting, underpins it all. It was refreshing to be in the presence of a writer who understands her process well enough to articulate the long, arduous struggle of songwriting. That level of articulate insight into the creation cycle might be expected from the author of the How to Write Songs that Matter (Hachette Books, 2022), based upon the popular songwriting workshops Williams has offered for years. The audience seems to have been there as much for Williams as for Cockburn, cheering and clapping through the introductions to cornerstone songs like “The Babysitter’s Here,” the comical and unsettling account of a child who idealizes her teenaged babysitter, and “When I Was a Boy,” perhaps Williams’ most famous song, about the carefree, undefined days of childhood. Williams’ set was the introductory session in an evening-long masterclass in songwriting and performance.

Bruce Cockburn, in a long coat, arrived on the stage around nine o’clock and was greeted by a din of cheers, applause, and the droning of his first name. Flanked by four guitars, Cockburn sat on a high stool, his left foot resting on a plastic crate. He wasted no time, opening the ceremonies with a rousing version of “The Blues Got the World…” from his 1973 album Night Vision. With stage lights beaming off the chrome-bodied National resonatorlike a searchlight, Cockburn came out laughing, the boisterous crowd giddy over the song’s chorus, “The blues got the world by the balls.”

For nearly two hours, Cockburn demonstrated in song-after-song why his fans love him, and why he is one of the greatest songwriters of our time. It’s hard to believe that all these magnificent songs came from one person. And it was only a small sampling, seventeen songs throughout the night from Cockburn’s catalog. For every song he sang, there are twenty more classics in his back pocket. But it’s the strength of his new material that is most impressive. There are not many artists with a body of work as consistently brilliant as Cockburn’s, and fewer still who can deliver what could well be one of his best albums fifty years after his first release.

After a few songs from his back catalogue, Cockburn was ready to bring the audience to the present day with three from the new album. “On a Roll,” the opening track to O Sun O Moon, is a joyful lament about the strangeness of our current era and the challenge of finding one’s way through unfamiliar conditions: “Time takes its toll / But in my soul / I’m on a roll.” He followed this with the odd and delightful“King of the Bolero,” one of Cockburn’s few purely fictitious songs, that tells of wandering into a club out of a full-moon night to listen to an otherworldly blues singer. The account is both dreamlike and so detailed that, had Cockburn not revealed it as fiction, we might take it as a first-person account. Next, came the sweet, stunning ballad to long-term love “Push Come to Shove,” with a chorus that both celebrates relationship and mourns the loss of nature:

I could sail what’s left of the seven seas
I could swim with the bears where the ice used to be
I could look in the mirror and blow myself a kiss
But reality calls and it comes down to this:
The place that you hold in my life
Is the axis it all spins around
Push come to shove
It’s all about love
The ring of your laugh is the sweetest of sounds.

In all, Cockburn played seven songs from the new album along with the concert sing-along-standard, his first hit from 1979, “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” and incendiary versions of “If a Tree Falls” and “Stolen Land.” Shouted requests for “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” were ignored. It was clear, the evening was not about vengeance; it was about love, gratitude, transcendence, and the blazing guitar prowess of a true master.

The tour will continue throughout the year. It’s an opportunity to witness a unique artist at the top of his game.

Photo by Maria Parrella Ilaria

June 19, 2023

Bruce Cockburn And Susan Aglukark Want To Keep The World We Know
by Darryl Sterdan

The folk icon & the Inuk star join forces to deliver a powerful environmental message.

Taken from the Canadian folk icon’s latest studio album O Sun O Moon, To Keep the World We Know is one of the album’s few explicitly topical numbers. The environmentally themed track bristles with Cockburn’s buzzing dulcimer as he and Inuk music star Aglukark — with whom he co-wrote the song — sing about the growing threats of global warming, greed and willful ignorance.

An inspired poet and exceptional guitarist, the award-winning Cockburn has spent his entire career kicking at the darkness with songs that tackle topics from politics and human rights to the environment and spirituality. And he’s not letting up. While other singer-songwriters his age are slowing down, Cockburn, on the eve of his 78th birthday, has released a dozen new compositions as powerful as any he’s written.

Exquisitely recorded in Nashville with his longtime producer, Colin Linden, O Sun O Moon exudes a newfound simplicity and clarity, as Cockburn focuses on more spiritual than topical concerns this time around, looking back and taking stock. “I think it’s a product of age to a certain extent,” he explains, “and seeing the approaching horizon.” Then, lightening the tone, he adds with a laugh: “I think these are exactly the kind of songs that an old guy writes.”

Most of the songs strike gentler tones, from the jazz sway of Push Come to Shove and the folky drone of Into the Now to the string-laden Us All and the hymn-like Colin Went Down to the Water. The latter, one of several songs Cockburn wrote while on a month-long holiday with family on the Hawaiian island of Maui, describes the drowning of a friend. “It’s not about Colin Linden,” Cockburn is quick to point out, “but someone I knew from San Francisco who’d moved to Maui. It was tragic and quite surreal because I got a voicemail message from him when I was in Maui, saying ‘Welcome to paradise,’ and then found out afterward that he’d died.”

Speaking of surreal, another song written while in Maui, the whimsical King of the Bolero, is unlike anything else on the album. Over a woozy clarinet and drunken, New Orleans-style horns, Cockburn paints a cartoon portrait of an oversized barroom musician “with a double chin all the way round his neck and a pot belly in the back.” Is it a dream or a figment of his imagination? In a gravelly voice, Cockburn leaves us guessing.

“The people I was with in Maui were quite perplexed when they heard that song,” muses Cockburn. “After hearing the other things I’d written there, they wondered ‘where did that come from?’ It really came from out of the blue. I remembered when I was in high school one of my friends made a crack about an old blues singer who used to come through who he said had a double chin in the back. It was a funny thing to hear at the time and it stayed with me. I didn’t want to make it specifically about a black blues guy, so I mention Minnesota Fats and Fatty Arbuckle as well as Fats Domino and Fats Waller.”

As with so many Cockburn albums, the musicianship on O Sun O Moon is superb. Along with usual suspects Linden on guitar, Janice Powers on keyboards and Gary Craig on drums, the album features bassist Viktor Krauss, drummer Chris Brown, accordionist Jeff Taylor, violinist Jenny Scheinman and multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke. And Cockburn’s guest vocalists include Shawn Colvin, Buddy Miller as well as mellifluous singers Allison Russell, Sarah Jarosz and 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, whose full name 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.” Cockburn adds that he wrote the line “and if that sun and moon don’t shine” in the spirit of songs from the folk ballad Mockingbird to the blues number Bo Diddley.

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.”

O Sun O Moon includes just one song without vocals, Haiku, a four-minute showcase of Cockburn’s fleet-fingered guitar work, where his previous studio recording, 2019’s Crowing Ignites, was a collection of all instrumental numbers. In between those albums, Cockburn, the Order of Canada recipient, 13-time Juno Award winner and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee released a 50th anniversary box set, greatest hits package and rarities collection.

Never one to rest on his laurels — even when, as he notes, “time takes its toll,” Cockburn keeps finding and conquering new challenges, never repeating himself in the process. “I just don’t want to ever keep doing the same thing,” he says. “I’m grateful that I can keep on doing anything at this point,” he adds. “My body doesn’t hold up and perform the way it once did.”

That may be so. But the legendary musician has just made his 38th studio album. And it may stand as one of his best of his long and storied career. 

June 16, 2023
Toronto Globe & Mail

Life’s constants: the sun, the moon and Bruce Cockburn
by Brad Wheeler

An insistent sage at age 78, Bruce Cockburn just released his 27th album, O Sun O Moon. The record is calm, magical and intensely human, with moments of sparkling lucidity that hark back to his 1979 masterpiece Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. From his home in San Francisco, he spoke about critics, the fate of troubadours and the benefits of staying vertical.

I’d ask how you are doing, but maybe you tell us on the album’s first song. “Time takes its toll, but in my soul I’m on a roll.” Does that sum it up?

Pretty much. I think I’m getting away with it so far, though age has had an effect for sure, and continues to do so. I don’t expect that is going to reverse itself.

You have issues with your back. Are you in discomfort?

I experience daily discomfort. But it doesn’t last all day. For an hour after I wake up in the morning there’s considerable pain. But once my body gets used to being upright instead of horizontal, the pain dissipates. It’s not that hard to live with.

I speak for all your fans when I say that we want you upright.

I appreciate that.

You’re getting some of the best reviews of your career. It’s safe to say that you’ve reached iconic status. Do you think that affects how your music is critiqued?

I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t read enough reviews to know. In fact, I haven’t seen a single review of this album. But the effect you’re talking about would not surprise me. Though it could cut both ways.

That critics might be tired of you?

When you’re coming up, everybody wants to get in on discovering you. There’s a lot of positive stuff, but some negative. Actually, in the old days the negative reviews helped just as much as the positive ones in terms of building an audience. There was a guy in Montreal who used to write terrible reviews of my shows. And yet people would come to see me in larger numbers every time I went there.

They’re still coming to see you. Do you make most of your money from touring these days, rather than recordings?

It’s always been a combination, but it’s really about the live stuff now. I’m more dependent on playing shows. Of course, we sell CDs at the shows.

Do you make much money on them, or are the new albums just something to tour on?

I get semi-annual statements from Truth North, my record label. There’s always some money. But it’s not what it once was. Most of the income I used to make from albums came from radio play. That doesn’t happen any more because everyone is streaming, and radio doesn’t play music like mine these days.

The death of the troubadour. Outside of hip hop, there’s not much truth-telling on the radio.

It’s certainly obvious that there’s lots of social criticism in hip hop, along with all the bombast and boasting about how much money you’re going to get. But songwriters are as affected by what’s in fashion as everybody else. When a certain style or approach is current, a lot of people will do that. Then someone will introduce a new element and people will swing in that direction.

Don’t we want the so-called three chords and the truth to always be in fashion?

I’m not in favour of polemics in songs, and I’m not in favour of what used to be called protest music in the sixties. It became fashionable to write protest songs, and people were writing some pretty bad songs. They might have been addressing an issue that required addressing, but they weren’t addressing it very well.

You’re going to upset the sandal-wearing people talking like that.

There were exceptions, including Phil Ochs and other people. But anytime people are writing in a particular way, maybe because it’s fashionable, the quality of the work is not likely to be that high. So, you wait for the groundbreakers. It happens every now and then. Someone comes up with a new angle on things, and a window will open up. But I don’t like to make pronouncements about this stuff. I’m not necessarily well-versed in what’s going on out there.

Do you listen to new music?

Most of what I hear is when I’m driving my daughter to school. I hear a lot of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, who are quite good at what they do. But there are a lot of people out there who are less worthy too.

Nobody reads poetry anymore. Maybe that’s affected songwriting.

When did people ever read poetry? But the power of the word is still there. You mentioned hip hop. Maybe that’s where the power is now. Most of what I hear doesn’t seem particularly interesting, but once in a while you hear something that is really good, where somebody is really saying something. It’s out there.

*This interview has been edited and condensed.*

June 15, 2023
WMOT Roots Radio

Bruce Cockburn, En Route To Nashville, Talks Career, Canada, And Christianity
by Craig Havighurst

Bruce Cockburn seems to have taken a cue on aging gracefully from David Letterman, with a full Santa beard and snow white hair buzzed close to his skull. The professorial spectacles remain, and the figure appearing on my computer screen last week was very much the 78-year-old version of a great songwriter whose voice I’ve had in my head for more than 30 years. Cockburn was on a tour bus, suspended between stages and between hope and concern.

“Time takes its toll, but in my soul, I’m on a roll,” he sings in the opening track of his latest album O Sun O Moon. This first set of new material since 2017 was recorded in Nashville by Cockburn’s longtime friend and producer Colin Linden. Cockburn’s roll heads back to Music City this weekend for a show at the CMA Theater on Saturday night.

I was delighted to have a chance to speak with the sage Canadian star, because his music was a huge force in my life, especially in the 1990s when my interest in songwriting and folk rock was surging. In Cockburn, I heard a personal and particular way of fusing smart, guitar-based composing with a trustworthy poet’s voice and a boldly idealistic worldview. Now, as the political and natural worlds he cares about so deeply wobble on crooked axes, he’s taking the long view.

“I have a very personal stake in this. I have an 11-year-old daughter and four grandchildren who are going to come of age when the fan is spraying stuff even more than it is now. And that's very worrisome,” he says from outside of Boston. “I feel a sense of standing on the edge of the precipice when I think about death, too. But I also know that there's love out there, and it's huge. And that love flows everywhere, including through me. So in spite of all of that crap that's going on, that is a central thing for me.”

Since the 1970s, Cockburn has been a rare prominent voice in folk music who embraces a Christian worldview. And while he is non-denominational and non-dogmatic (“I have as eclectic an approach to Christianity as I do music,” he says), the ethos and edict of “love thy neighbor” has been ever-present, including in his newest music. The song “Orders” allows the songwriter to claim both what he stands for and against in puzzle-snug verses.

“The pastor preaching shades of hate
The self-inflating head of state
The black and blue, the starved for bread
The dread, the red, the better dead
…The list is long—as I recall
Our orders said to love them all”

Meanwhile, the precarious state of the environment becomes the focus of “To Keep The World We Know,” in which he sings: “Waters rise, grassland dries/Mother Earth, she weeps/Willful ignorance and greed/Prevail while reason sleeps.” It’s far from the first time stewardship has shown up as an important value in his work, but Cockburn is now and ever a committed man who articulates our own prayers with enough musical grace, groove and levity to inspire and help us through bewilderment.

Cockburn’s journey to the top of Canadian folk music began with a passion for jazz. As a young guitar student in the 1950s and 60s in Ottawa, he was mentored in that direction but also influenced by his mother. “The instrumental side came first,” he says. “I didn't see myself as a songwriter initially. I was a guitar player. My mom insisted that I should sing, because guitar players sing, she said, you know? And I grudgingly sort of tried that. I was very self conscious about it.”

He did a stint at the Berklee College of Music in Boston but quit that to be in a band back in Ottawa, then more groups in Toronto. When he finally went solo, things clicked fast. By the early 70s he’d won three straight JUNO Awards as the country’s top folk artist. After a remarkable nine albums in the 70s, he reached the US market with the luminous picking and singing of “Wondering Where The Lions Are.” That’s the first I heard from him on the radio, but a few years after its 1979 release, that album Dancing In The Dragon’s Jaws and 1984’s Stealing Fire became favorites of mine for their thoughtful arrangements and the skilled dialogue between his vocals and his interesting guitar playing.

I asked Cockburn about his long relationship with Colin Linden, whom he first met as a kid in the 70s on the folk music circuit. While Linden’s inspiration and origin story is more rooted in traditional blues than Cockburn’s, they found common cause in the 80s when Bruce brought Colin aboard as his first ever touring guitar partner. After two early 90s albums made with T Bone Burnett, including my beloved Nothing But A Burning Light, Cockburn turned to Linden for his next one, Charity of Night. “In preparation for that, I knew that Colin, having worked with him closely for a couple of years, had absorbed a lot of information about how to make the studio work. And so I asked him to co-produce,” Cockburn told me. “I trust him completely, so he's produced all but one of the albums since then.”

Linden for his part says that Cockburn shows up highly prepared for sessions, with songs structurally integrated into guitar arrangements. But that doesn’t mean the producer has nothing to do. On O Sun O Moon, Linden assembled a cast of exceptional Nashville musicians with whom Cockburn hadn’t worked before, including bass player Viktor Krauss and wind multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke. Guest singers include Sarah Jarosz, Allison Russell, and Regina McCrary. The 12-song set is, remarkably, his 35th release, but it’s as urgent, unguarded and refined as anything he’s done.

O Sun O Moon has performed well on the Americana radio chart since it was released on May 12, but Cockburn’s legacy in America at large is more complicated. He’s won every possible honor in his native land, including its songwriters hall of fame, the Order of Canada, 13 JUNO Awards and numerous honorary doctorate degrees. But he’s never had so much as a Grammy nomination in the US, which I’d assess as outrageous. I didn’t ask him about that directly, but we did talk about what he’d witnessed over his four decades of songwriting about national identity.

“Back in the late 60s, it was typical of Canadians to undervalue what we produced ourselves,” he said. “I remember getting in an argument with some guy on the street one day about whether Joni Mitchell was actually Canadian. And his position was no, she can't be because she's good. I said no, she was from Saskatchewan. This was typical. It was as if a Canadian artist had to go and get approved in the States or Britain, and then Canadians would approve of them also.” Cockburn bridled at that, as he, Gordon Lightfoot, Ian Tyson and others carved out a proud Canadian sound and landscape, a legacy one hears today in the work of Colter Wall, Corb Lund, and the aforementioned Allison Russell.

You’ll hear it as well in the grooves of O Sun O Moon, in the show on Saturday, and in the determination of a fellow who’s wired to reach out with music and ideas. “I'm not sure this is true, but I have a feeling I'm more active than a lot of people my age,” he says. “On the other side of the coin, the hands are arthritic. The spine is falling apart. There's bad stuff going on that will eventually impair what I'm able to do, but so far I'm getting away with it. Because I like doing what I do, and I like being able to share the songs with people.”

June 6, 2023
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Canadian Singer-Songwriter Still 'On A Roll' after 50 Years Of Making Music
By Phil Kloer

Bruce Cockburn, the Canadian singer-songwriter who has known decades of success and accolades without ever quite becoming a household name, is 78 years old and on a roll. Just ask him.

In “On a Roll,” the opening track on his new album “O Sun O Moon,” Cockburn (pronounced CO Burn), sings “Time takes its toll/ but in my mind/ I’m on a roll.”

“There are issues that didn’t used to be there. Arthritic fingers take a little more babying and fussing with to get them to work than used to be the case,” he explains, regarding the “time takes its toll” lyric.

“I don’t have the energy I had when I was younger, there’s no doubt about it.

“And yet I feel like I have a better understanding of my relationship with God,” he continues, on a roll as it were. “I also feel like everything is lighter. There are real things to worry about in the world. But the way in which we concern ourselves changes over time. The things that used to be a great source of stress now are more like shaking your head and saying ‘Well, there you go.’”

Cockburn launched his musical career in 1970, and of his more than 30 albums, 22 are Canadian gold or platinum. A member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, he is best known for his songs “Wondering Where the Lions Are” (1979) and “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (1984). His music flits from folk to pop to jazz to indigenous influences, and his lyrics range from love songs to Christian allegories to impassioned songs about political prisoners and climate change.

Cockburn’s current tour, in which he plays solo without a backup band, brings him and opener Dar Williams (another singer-songwriter, herself frequently a headliner at mid-sized venues) to Variety Playhouse June 18. Cockburn’s scheduled 2020 Atlanta concert was scrapped because of the pandemic, so the last time he played here was 2018.

Asked in a recent telephone interview why he is touring solo this time, he chuckles and chooses honesty. “I get to take home more of the money,” he says. “That’s not the only reason for doing it this way, but it counts.

“The solo experience tends to be a little bit more emotional for me,” he elaborates. “There is an exchange of personal energy between all of us in the room.”

In his eighth decade, his lyrics are pared down, but with plenty of wisdom embedded. “What will go wrong will go wrong/ What will go right will go right/ Push come to shove/ It’s all about love,” he writes in a love song to his wife, M.J.

“Orders,” one of the stronger new songs, is a take on the Golden Rule in which he lists all the people he is ordered by God to love, no matter how hard it is, including “the one we think we’re better than.”

“It took a lot of time to write that one. I don’t remember what triggered the idea. I wrote pages and pages and pages listing all the possible people we have to bite the bullet and love. Then it was whittling it down to a manageable size.”

But the biggest recurring theme is mortality.

“The whole album’s about death pretty much,” he says. “But I even feel lighter about that. Not about tragedy or pain or people dying when they shouldn’t. That’s all real and not something you can take lightly. It’s tragic when it’s a school shooting, but when its someone who has had a full life. … You have a life; you have to leave it at some point.”

He says he is comfortable pondering his own mortality. “When the moment comes, I’m probably going to be panic stricken like everyone else.” Again with the chuckle.

“But contemplating it from where I’m currently looking, it’s not that scary. It’s gonna be what it is. I have some concerns about what I’m going to encounter afterward. It could be what I imagine, or it could be nothing. But as that horizon gets closer, it just feels natural.

“My relationship with the divine is front and center in my life,” he continues. My fear, if there is a fear, is that I will come face to face with God and not recognize Him.” He drops another chuckle into the conversation. “I hope to get past that.”

May 31, 2023

Bruce Cockburn’s New Album, O Sun O Moon, Takes Listeners on a Hopeful, Honest Quest
by Steve Rosen

Over the course of his 53-year career as a solo recording artist, Bruce Cockburn has won admiration for the finely crafted imagery and poetically descriptive details of his personal and political songs, the subtly emotional quality of his vocals and the virtuosity of his guitar playing. He’ll be making a comparatively rare Cincinnati appearance at Ludlow Garage on June 16; Dar Williams is opening the show.

Granted, his fame is greater in his native Canada than in the U.S. There, he’s regarded on equal footing with fellow Canadians Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot as a major singer-songwriter. (Cockburn has lived in San Francisco since 2009). But he has had an appreciative U.S. following ever since he scored a hit single in 1979 with the gently catchy “Wondering Where the Lions Are.” It may be, he has said, the only top 40 song ever to contain the word “petroglyphs.”

His other songs — particularly “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” “Pacing the Cage” and “Waiting for a Miracle” — have become recognized here through either album rock airplay of his own versions or covers by such artists as Jerry Garcia, Shawn Colvin, Barenaked Ladies, Judy Collins and more. Though written earlier, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” and “Pacing the Cage” drew increased attention during the worst of the pandemic.

It really is a distinguished, accomplished career in retrospect. But at age 78, he’s not looking backward. On his new record, O Sun O Moon, his 38th studio album, he begins with a bluesy, soulful rocker built around this memorable refrain: “Time takes its toll/But in my soul/I’m on a roll.”

It seems a pretty upbeat notion, driven along by a hot electric guitar solo by Colin Linden, who also produced the record. So CityBeat’s first question to Cockburn during a phone interview is if the song is meant as a motivational statement for the audience that has aged along with him.

At first, he laughs, then addresses the inquiry with the kind of serious introspection that has been a constant in his career. “I think I’m talking to myself as much as to you,” he says. “But that’s all right if they (his audience) think that. We all hope people will pay attention to the album.”

“On a Roll” is a good example of how his songs can make you think and, for that matter, how much thought goes into the songwriting. Positive as that refrain seems, the verses aren’t morale boosters. An example: “Howl of anger, howl of grief/here comes the heat with no relief/social behavior/beyond belief/throw those punches, drop that ball/commit to nothing, excuse it all/here comes the future/here comes the fall.”

The song’s seeming positivity relates to Cockburn’s searching, questioning, non-violent view of Christianity, to which he’s long been devoted. “Looking around the world, it’s in a mess and that’s nothing new,” he explains. “In the Trump era in America and then post-Trump, the notion of bad manners sort of vanished, along with the notion of good manners. So there’s a reference to that and all these other things going on — this external chaos.

“But inside, well, I’m getting older — that’s time taking its toll,” Cockburn continues. “But at the same time, I feel like I’m getting closer to the relationship with the divine that I want and hope for. I can’t really define that relationship very well for you, but that’s been a theme of mine from the get-go, so it’s a hopeful statement on a personal level in spite of all the crap going on around us.

“It’s probably not for everybody, but I don’t think I’m alone on this,” he explains about his religious belief. “As the horizon approaches, you start thinking about what’s on the other side. I don’t want to meet God and not recognize him. That matters to me. That’s the driving principle behind my ongoing efforts to get that relationship in good shape.”

(Cockburn expresses those thoughts even more directly on the new album’s strong closing song, “When You Arrive").

Born in Ottawa, he took an early interest in music, especially jazz, and went on to study composition at Boston’s Berklee School of Music in the mid-1960s before dropping out. He then found his way into rock and folk.

As his career and following developed, so, too, did his concern with war and economic inequities. One of his most memorable and controversial songs, 1984’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” came about after Cockburn visited a Mexican refugee camp for Guatemalans fleeing the brutality of their country’s military government.

The song shocked fans who regarded Cockburn as firmly non-violent; others saw it as a rallying call to arms against government-sponsored violence.

It's a song Cockburn still finds a need to explain today — it’s about him being glad he didn’t have a rocket launcher handy. “The word ‘if’ gets overlooked a lot when people think about that song,” he says. “One of the things I was trying to say is that the enemy — in this case, the Guatemalan military — was inflicting horrendous abuses on its own citizens and forfeiting any claim to humanity by their actions. I was outraged by those things, and my outrage was motivating the song. I don’t think it was an appropriate response really, but I wanted to share with my peers how easy it is to get into that state of mind.”

When Cockburn includes the word “love” in his songs — and he does so on four different O Sun O Moon tracks — he doesn’t do it casually or as a songwriting cliché. His vision of love somewhat parallels his vision of beauty in life. On one of the new album’s loveliest ballads, the quietly hymnic “Us All,” he sings, “I pray we not fear to love/I pray we be free of judgment and shame/Open the vein/let kindness rain/rein/O’er us all.”

“Every now and then, something in your life triggers this sense of being part of the human picture — that feeling to me is love,” Cockburn explains. “When I think about what love is, it’s the glue that holds the universe together, or at least it allows us to tap into our sense of belonging in the universe.

“The love that we can share with other people is a manifestation of that. It’s kind of love at the local level, you might say.”

May 30, 2023

Bruce Cockburn bringing 50-year musical treasure trove to The Palace [Greensburg, PA]
by Shirley McMarlin

Through more than 50 years of making music, Bruce Cockburn has generally been identified as a Canadian singer/songwriter.

The designation is no longer strictly accurate. In 2022, Cockburn became a dual Canadian-United States citizen.

“I got a green card because I married an American, and I married an American because I loved her,” said Cockburn, 78, who now lives in San Francisco with his wife and daughter. “The U.S. has been very good to me for a long time, so it’s pretty natural to be here.”

Best known for the songs “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” from 1979, and “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” from 1984, Cockburn is touring behind his May 12 album release, “O Sun O Moon.”

He has a show at The Palace Theatre in Greensburg at 7:30 p.m. June 10.

Though the Ottawa native is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, has 17 albums certified gold in Canada, is an officer of The Order of Canada and owns 13 Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy Award), and despite touring extensively in the U.S., he remains something of a cult figure here.

Comparing him to Canadian contemporaries like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot, American listeners often have pegged Cockburn “mostly as an impassioned, Reagan-era peacenik … (who) ranks with such neglected greats as Judee Sill and Nick Drake,” said Daniel de Vise, writing in 2022 on

Cockburn doesn’t worry much about that.

Attitude of gratitude

“I’m very grateful for the audience I have and I don’t feel any sense of resentment about the size of that audience,” he said. “If anything, it’s the opposite because when you start out, you don’t expect anything. I think it would be foolish to start out or even to continue at any point thinking, I gotta get more people out here.

“I’ve known people who approach it that way but, to me, it’s not what it’s about.”

Rather, he strives to honor his musical muse.

“I feel like these songs are given to me and there’s intention behind that, and I honor that intention. Whatever comes, comes,” he said.

The adult alternative radio stations that proliferated in the late 1980s and ’90s were a boon to musicians like himself, he said, but they’ve given way to other algorithms.

“Of course, it would be nice to have a big audience or get radio play like we used to do,” he said. “But nowadays, unless I make music with fake drums or write sort of teen-angst lyrics, I’m not going to be on the radio very much.”

Cockburn’s guitar-playing blends rock with folk and jazz inflections, set to lyrics that reflect his relationships, environmental and human rights activism and Christianity. The songs demand to be written, he said.

“There’s a lot of real problems to be solved and we won’t solve them by hating each other and calling each other names. Yet that seems to be the level on which most public interaction is being carried on,” he said. “Does the world need me to say things? Not necessarily. But that’s where I am.”

His writing process is different for songs with lyrics and those that are instrumental.

“Songs with lyrics start with lyrics, then it’s a question of finding music suitable for those lyrics,” he said. “Instrumental pieces often come out of fooling around on the guitar and discovering something that sounds like it could be extrapolated into a whole piece.

“Instrumental pieces are born out of the guitar and the songs with lyrics are born out of the lyrics.”

Because of the intricacy and imagery of his lyrics, he said he’s been asked on occasion if he would consider doing a book of poetry.

“I have a hearty amount of esteem for the real poets, and there are many, and all of them are better at that than I would be,” he said. “I think my song lyrics are meant to go with music. They’re not meant to stand alone on a page the way real – quote – poetry would.”

Horizon approaching

“O Sun O Moon” is Cockburn’s 40th album. His songwriting process has evolved over the years, dating back to his self-titled debut release in 1970.

“I’m a lot fussier about how I write now. I’m less accepting of second-rate images and lines,” he said. “It becomes harder to avoid repeating myself, and that’s something that really matters.

“There’s always going to be some element of familiarity about the songs, but it is important to me not to keep writing the same songs,” he said. “Once in a while we hear somebody who does that and it’s very boring.”

Several songs on the new album grapple with mortality and what lies beyond this life.

“It’s not that I sit around thinking about it all the time, but you can’t not notice,” Cockburn said. “The older I get — and I think it’s not just true for me — the more you notice that horizon approaching. It changes what you think about.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re thinking morbid thoughts all the time, but different things seem important,” he said. “The energy is different and the way you approach your day, and that all shows up in the songs, for sure.”

Though Cockburn sometimes tours with a band, it will be just him and his guitars at The Palace. The opening act will be pop/folk singer-songwriter Dar Williams.

“Dar and I have done this before,” Cockburn said. “I don’t know her well, but I’ve worked with her here and there for a long time. I like her and I think she’s good.”

Photo: Daniel Keebler

May 25, 2023
FYI Music News
by David Farrell

Bruce Cockburn is to be inducted into the Legends of Live pantheon at the Canadian Live Music Industry Awards on Friday, June 9, at Toronto’s Harbour Castle Hotel. The event sits under the Canadian Music Week (CMW) umbrella.

The celebrated singer-songwriter has released 35 albums since his coffee house launch in 1967 and subsequently has earned 22 gold and platinum albums. Below is a live performance of Last Night of the World, recorded at Massey Hall last year.

May 25, 2023
Americana UK

Bruce Cockburn “O Sun O Moon”
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.

May 19, 2023
The Fire Note

Bruce Cockburn: O Sun O Moon [Album Review]
by Brian Q. Newcomb

It’s been 6 years, since Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn (pronounced Coe-burn) released an album with voice and lyrics, Bone On Bone, and 4 years since he’d released an album of acoustic guitar instrumentals, Crowing Ignites. “Time takes its toll,” he sings on the opening track of his new release, but as the music throbs with a smart fun rock & roll rhythm and the resonator guitar moans, he insists “But in my soul/I’m on a roll.” Depending on who’s counting, Cockburn has released 28 studio albums, and another dozen more if you count all the live concert recordings and compilations, so sending “O Sun O Moon” out into the world just weeks before his 78th birthday is the fruit of a still fertile and reflective, creative mind.

Over the decades, fans have followed from his early folky, nature songs, expressing a youthful, nascent Christian spirituality on albums like Salt, Sun and Time, and Further Adventures Of, his airplay breakthrough stateside with “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” and his majestic acoustic guitar playing on Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. The 80’s started with his classic album, Humans, reeling from the pain of his divorce, which opened up musical and political explorations, culminating in “(If I Had a) Rocket Launcher” on Stealing Fire, and ecological activism on Big Circumstance, with expressions of world music, and flirtations with rock, jazz and new wave influences. In the 90’s he teamed up with producer T Bone Burnett to deliver Nothing but a Burning Light, and his long-time collaborator and producer Colin Linden to release Breakfast in Timbuktu…, two of his strongest works of that period. Cockburn has only released 5 vocal albums in the 2000, each one containing a handful of strong, memorable songs.

This time out, Cockburn has acknowledged in an interview that he’s written the kind of songs an older person writes. “You’re limping like a three-legged canine,” sings the guy who seemed to struggle walking with a cane when I saw him in concert in 2019, “Backbone creaking like a cheap shoe/Dragging the accretions of a lifetime/But you oughta make another mile or two.” What seems to drive him to keep on keeping on are some of the same things that inspired him early on. He returns again and again to his environmental concerns for a climate in crisis. In “Push Comes to Shove” he sings “I could sail what’s left of the seven seas/I could swim with the bears where the ice used to be.” In a call to action “To Keep the World We Know,” he sings of “Smoke of a thousand fires/Filling up the sky…From Tundra to the Tropics/Our world’s gone up in flames.” Joined by Indigenous Canadian vocalist Susan Aglukark singing in her native Inuktitut, he warns that “Waters rise, grassland dries/Mother Earth, she weeps/Willful ignorance and greed/Prevail while reason sleeps.”

In “Orders” Cockburn addresses the divisions fueled by “The pastor preaching shades of hate/The self-inflating head of state” goes on to list of people struggling to get by before concluding that “The list is long – as I recall/Our orders said to love them all,” echoing the Jesus of the Gospels. It’s a thought that continues in “Push Comes to Shove,” that ultimately “It’s all about love,” which seeks condense Cockburn’s thoughts on spirituality at this point. In “Into the Now,” the singer reflects on the circumstances of human existence and seeks to live fully in the present, where “Light as the feet of birds hunting on sod/Love trickles down like honey from God.” Cockburn is convinced that the source of light, life and love is at work in the world; promising “you’ll become what you can be/You’re a thread upon the loom/When the spirit walks in the room.” It comes down to a choice between “Shutters and walls or an open embrace/Like it or not, the human race/Is us all,” he sings in the gentle hymn like orchestration of “Us All.” It comes with this blessing: “I pray we not fear to love/I pray we be free of judgement and shame/Open the vein, let kindness rain/O’er us all.”

“King of the Bolero” is this album’s quirky song, its “3 Al Purdy’s” if you will, although the song from “Bone On Bone” celebrating the noted Canadian poet in colorful poetic lyrics worthy of its subject matter landed much better than this song about a large bluesman that’s “Got a double chin all the way round his neck/And a pot belly in the back,” although that old world accordion was a nice touch. And like many older people, Cockburn has begun to reflect on the end that awaits us all. In “Colin Went Down to the Water,” he reflects on a friend’s death by suicide [see editorial note at the end of this review], explaining in his bio that this song is obviously about another Colin, not Linden his producer. In the album’s two closing songs, Cockburn sings of a dream about entering the afterlife: “O sun by day O moon by night/Light my way so I get this right/And if that sun and moon don’t shine/Heaven guide these feet of mine/To Glory.” You may remember he sang about “Rumours of Glory,” which became the title of his memoir, back in the day.

The album closes with a wry send off, joined on the chorus by Shawn Colvin, Sarah Jarosz, and Ann & Regina McCrary, who all join him here and there on harmony vocals throughout the album, plus Allison Russell and Buddy Miller to sing the New Orleans flavored bar-room hymn send-off, hoping for a “Halo for a saint who’s yet to be: “The dead shall sing/To the living and semi-alive/Bells will ring when you arrive.” It’s a fare-thee-well worthy of a beloved singer songwriter who has a few more miles left in him. Cockburn rounds out this album with one more track, “Haiku” an acoustic instrumental that reveals he can still create magic on his fretboard. On tour back in ’19, Cockburn played an amazing solo piece from his all-instrumental album, Crowing Ignites, and when he tours in support of this album this summer, I anticipate he’ll pull this one out to exhibit the depth and musical creativity that is still driving him forward. END

Regarding the reviewers comment that the song Colin Went Down To The Water "reflects on a friend’s death by suicide”… Based on what the album's official press release said, there is no mention of suicide. Below is what the official press release bio says regarding the song.  -Daniel Keebler

Still, most of the songs strike gentler tones, from the jazz sway of “Push Come to Shove” and the folky drone of “Into the Now” to the string-laden “Us All” and the hymn-like “Colin Went Down to the Water.” The latter, one of several songs Cockburn wrote while on a month-long holiday with family on the Hawaiian island of Maui, describes the drowning of a friend. “It’s not about Colin Linden,” Cockburn is quick to point out, “but someone I knew from San Francisco who’d moved to Maui. It was tragic and quite surreal because I got a voicemail message from him when I was in Maui, saying ‘Welcome to paradise,’ and then found out afterward that he’d died.”

May 10, 2023
Toledo Blade

Review: Bruce Cockburn hits his mark with his spiritual album, O Sun O Moon
by Tom Henry

Due out this week is the 38th studio album by prolific singer-songwriter-poet Bruce Cockburn, whose name alone conjures up fond memories for me of a good friend and fellow Central Michigan University graduate, Chris Walker, now an assistant professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Chris is a talented photographer and nature lover who worked alongside me at The Blade years ago. He got me to take a deeper dive into Cockburn’s music in the 1990s after I fell in love with Cockburn’s catchy and definitely quirky hit single from 1979, “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” which I’m revisiting again as I’m writing this and as I often do when I think of Cockburn.

So pardon the momentary digression, but Cockburn’s a guy who seems so easy to write about but isn’t. He’s simple, yet complex. He’s more fascinating and offbeat than many folk singers, which says a lot, and he has a cool brand of Canadian roots music to go along with his deeply thought, yet heartfelt view of the world.

I don’t know exactly where to put O Sun O Moon on his impressive list of career achievements spanning more than 50 years, but I will say this: Cockburn, who turns 78 on May 27, has still got it.

He has produced another masterpiece.

If you’re looking for something more spiritual than political, this album should rank as one of his best.

On songs such as “Us All,” Cockburn preaches love, empathy and forgiveness. On “To Keep the World We Know,”  he explores the touchy subject of climate change as it relates to humanity. The song is eloquently performed and features Indigenous Canadian artist Susan Aglukark singing in Inuktitut.

While there’s a spiritual vibe and calls for compassion throughout, Cockburn really delivers on the title track with unparalleled lyrics and emotion that appeal to your inner strength. It’s almost like a primal awakening.

“Time takes its toll, but in my soul I’m on a roll,” Bruce Cockburn sings on his opening number, “On a Roll.”  

There’s a beauty in this album that may stick with listeners for years.

May 10, 2023
Folk Radio

Bruce Cockburn - O Sun O Moon
by Mike Davies

Approaching his 78th birthday this month, Bruce Cockburn returns with ‘O Sun O Moon’, a terrific album…possibly one of his best.

After publishing his memoirs, Rumours of Glory in 2013, Bruce Cockburn said he felt creatively exhausted. Since then, there have only been two albums, 2017’s Bone On Bone and 2019’s all-instrumental Crowing Ignites. He returns now, recharged and, as the opening tracks say, On A Roll, even if the track itself, featuring producer Colin Linden on electric and resophonic guitars, Viktor Krauss and upright bass and Shawn Colvin and Ann and Regina McCrary on vocals, is more inclined to gloom and doom (“howl of anger, howl of grief/Here comes the heat, with no relief/Social behaviour/Beyond belief”) with its grim vision of today’s world and notes of mortality (“Finality is hard to bear/Continue breathing/And beware”). And yet, as veined throughout the album, with its focus on “spiritual connections, forgiveness, and love”, faith provides light as he sings “But in my soul/I’m on a roll”. We are, as he notes in the pizzicato plucked, glockenspiel-coloured, Us All, united as a human race (“Scars we inflict on each other don’t die/But slowly soak into the DNA of us all”). Still, while he sings, “I pray we be free of judgement and shame/Open the vein, let kindness rain”,  he admits finding it a struggle to follow Christian precepts “to love them all” when, on the moody, fingerpicked and end of tether sung  Orders, featuring marimba, clarinet, saxophones, accordion and dulceola, he’s confronted with “The pastor preaching shades of hate/The self-inflating head of state/The black and blue, the starved for bread/The dread, the red,the  better dead/The sweet the vile, the small, the tall”), one of only two numbers to take a directly political approach.

The other, featuring Sarah Jarosz on urgent mandolin and celebrated Inuk artist Susan Aglukark singing in her native  Inuktitut, is the folksier steady marching rhythm, climate change-themed To Keep The World We Know  (“From the tundra to the tropics/Our world’s gone up in flames…Even up north in Iqaluit/Where there’s not a tree for miles/Fire shoots out the kitchen tap/Apocalyptic style/Waters rise, grassland dries/Mother Earth, she weeps/Willful ignorance and greed/Prevail while reason sleeps”) with its call to “think past your bank account/To keep the world we know”.

And yet, while “Bank comes down heavy when the mortgage ain’t  paid/Cops come down hard on disorder”, on the gentle undulating sway of Into The Now, he remains firm in the belief in a higher power and that “Love trickles down like honey from God”, the number capturing the ambience of Maui where it was written. The same sentiment informs the slow, jazzier love song Push Comes To Shove, where, with Shawn Colvin on harmonies and Jenny Scheinman on violin, he adopts the pragmatic view that “What will go wrong will go wrong/What will go right will go right” but that when “Push comes to shove/It’s all about love”, the lyrics making another climate change reference in “I could sail what’s left of the seven seas/I could swim with the bears where the ice used to be”.

With Allison Russell, Buddy Miller and Colin Linden on harmonies and Jim Hoke adding marimba and bass clarinet; the softly sung, melodically lilting, hymnal-like Colin Went Down To The Water is written about a friend from San Francisco who moved to Maui and drowned while Cockburn was visiting there, shortly after sending a ‘welcome to paradise’ voice message. Also penned in Maui but a wild departure from the rest of the album, King Of The Bolero flows like molasses on woozy clarinet and drunken New Orleans horns, a portrait of a “large human being at the back of the bar/Pulling visceral sounds from a no-name guitar”, the image dating back to his high school days and friends talking about an old blues singer with a double chin and pot belly, here deliberately ambiguous as Cockburn sings “It’s not Minnesota Fats or Domino  or Waller/Or Arbuckle or anybody painted by Botero”.

There’s just one instrumental here, again playing jazzy notes with Haiku, the album coming to a close with, first, Ann and Regina McCrary again on vocals, the clarinet haunted, slow march O Sun By Day O Moon By Night on which he speaks the lyrics, a poem meditating on mortality as he imagines arriving at heaven’s gate, his voice soaring on the refrain  “O sun by day o moon by night/Light my way so I get this right/And if that sun and moon don’t shine/Heaven guide these feet of mine/To Glory”),  as, the song sounding with echoes of both Mockingbird and Bo Diddley, “Through longing and through pain/Pain brings understanding/Your mistakes will set you free/To sink into the spirit”.

With Colvin, Russell, Miller, Jarosz and the McCrarys all on vocals, it ends with the lazy ragtime blues shuffle When You Arrive with its nod to the pandemic (“The chapel is closed for the Covid”) and a wry musing on the trials of getting older (“You’re limping like a three-legged canine/Backbone creaking like a cheap shoe/Dragging the accretions of a lifetime/But you ought to make another mile or two”) but with an uplifting vision that, after shuffling off this mortal coil, “the dead shall sing/To the living and the semi-alive/Bells will ring when you arrive”.

There is, however, one other track – simply arranged for acoustic guitar, violin and organ and part spoken like a less gravelly Tom Waits circa The Heart Of Saturday Night; it’s one of the finest songs he’s written; When The Spirit Walks In The Room is an affirmation of faith and expression of that moment when it finds you and how we are all woven from the same fabric “It can appear at any hour/When it comes, it comes in power/You may not walk, you may not see/But you’ll become what you can be/You’re a thread upon the loom/When the spirit walks in the room” because “We play the role we’re made to play/We’re but threads upon the loom/When the spirit walks in the room”. At one point on this terrific album, he sings, “There are people who live to believe/In the good we all can make/There are people who live to believe/In how much they can take”. Bruce Cockburn is one of the former.

May 10, 2023
Glide Magazine

Bruce Cockburn Branches Out With Spiritually Aligned 'O Sum 'O Moon (Album Review)
by Jim Hynes

Renowned singer-songwriter and activist Bruce Cockburn indicated a decade ago in his memoirs, Rumours of Glory, that he felt creatively spent but that disposition has certainly changed. Sure, his prolific rate has slowed with just three albums since, and this latest, O Sun O Moon, the 35th album for the 77-year-old Cockburn, is his first vocal album since 2017’s Bone on Bone. With an artistic voice that’s been as resonant and socially important for over five decades now, it would be more surprising to see him stay silent. This doesn’t compare to Cockburn’s searing politically charged albums in the ’80s. He’s understandably much more mellow now yet he cannot ignore more of what’s gone down in the past six years, addressing climate change in “To Keep the World We Know” and political diverseness in “Orders.” Yet, in that song, his major message is unity which sets aside forgiveness, love, and spiritual connections as the common themes.

Cockburn continues to assemble an elite supporting group of musicians, led by longtime collaborator Colin Linden, who produced it and plays guitar throughout. Linden’s wife, Janice Powers, plays keys, Gary Craig shares drum duties with Chris Brown, while bassist Viktor Krauss, accordionist Jeff Taylor, violinist Jenny Scheinman, and multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke. The guest vocalists are an equally impressive group – Shawn Colvin, Buddy Miller, Allison Russell, Sarah Jarosz, and Ann and Regina McCrary of The McCrary Sisters. Configurations vary with each track.

Cockburn has the knack of expressing his current state succinctly in the opening “On a Roll” – “Time takes its toll/But in my soul/I’m on a roll.” The snappy, infectious shuffle features Cockburn and Linden on stinging resonator guitars while Colvin and the two McCrarys accent the choruses. The tempo slows for the provocative “Orders” with its reference “Our orders said to love them all’ as Hoke and Taylor paint beautiful textures with clarinet, saxophones, accordion, and dulceola, blending well with Cockburn’s own acoustic fingerpicked guitar. “Push Comes to Shove” is a deceptively simple song, both lyrically and musically, about love where Cockburn expresses the kind of warmth that evokes his classics such as “Coldest Night of the Year.” Scheinman’s violin solo adds a classy touch. “Colin Went Down to the Water” brings an inexplicable kind of spirituality, buoyed by the “choir” of Buddy Miller, Allison Russell, and Linden.

The country waltz “Into the Now” contemplates mortality, musically imbued with Jarosz’s mandolin and Taylor’s accordion. Cockburn is clearly expressing his ‘sense of wonder’ and some of his rhyming couplets are ingenious such as this one – “The moon weighs one hundredth of our island earth/Baby weighs a ton on the eve of its birth.”  Unexpected instrumental choices are a major strength of this effort, none better than the combination of Craig’s glockenspiel and Scheinman’s layered violins on “Us All.” We’re transported back to those special kinds of rhythms that marked Cockburn gems such as “Wondering Where the Lions Are” in “To Keep the World We Know” as Cockburn plays dulcimer, with Jarosz on mandolin and co-writing indigenous Canadian artist Susan Aglukark singing in Inuktitut.

“King of the Bolero” is a haunting, half-spoken, half-sung noir tune with Hoke’s woodwinds and Taylor’s accordion weaving flamenco motifs around Cockburn’s resonator. “When the Spirit Walks in the Room” is the epitome of his spiritually connected theme (“You’re a thread upon the loom/When the spirit walks in the room”), rendered here just as a trio with Scheinman and Powers. The bluesy instrumental “Haiku” leads into the title track, another spiritual ode, half-sung, half spoken that to this writer, somehow evoked late fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen although the chorus, boosted by the McCrarys, is trademark Cockburn. The closing “When You Arrive” is a country blues that in its unconventional way celebrates the “semi-alive” as all the background vocalists listed gather for perhaps one last proverbial sendoff. 

Let’s hope it’s not the last one for Cockburn who seems to be revitalized as he approaches 80. In the meantime, we can celebrate one of our most important artists of the past five, now almost six decades.

May 9, 2023
No Depression

ALBUM REVIEW: Bruce Cockburn On a Roll with ‘O Sun O Moon’
by Doug Heselgrave

Bruce Cockburn has been a revered musical icon in Canada for more than half a century, but despite being championed by the likes of Jerry Garcia and Crosby, Stills & Nash, and being famously called out by Eddie Van aHHalen as the world’s greatest guitarist, he has never caught on in the same way outside of his native country. This lack of mainstream success is probably not something that the 77-year-old songwriter has devoted much thought to; like his contemporaries David Bowie and Bob Dylan, he’s never been one to rest with or follow successful formulas. As a relentlessly creative artist, Cockburn has pursued his very personal and highly accomplished musical visions ever since his debut album was released in 1969.

Featuring 11 new songs and one instrumental track that showcases his exemplary guitar playing, O Sun O Moon is Bruce Cockburn’s 38th album and will almost certainly come to be considered one of his best.

The opening track, “On a Roll,” is Cockburn’s declaration to his audience that even though he’s old and time waits for no one, he doesn’t want to be counted out yet. An ode to never giving up, it defines the mood of the album, declaring “this is who I am and what I believe” without blush or apology. It sets the stage perfectly for the topical songs such as “Orders,” “Push Come to Shove,” and “To Keep the World We Know” that follow it.

Buoyed along by some of the most gorgeous acoustic melodies you’ll ever hear, they pack lyrics that call out global warming, unscrupulous banks, and religious hypocrisy. Cockburn clearly learned a long time ago that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

Cockburn’s music is informed by a progressive Christian faith, but he has never been one to proselytize, with his lyrics reflecting his assertion that the love and compassion that are supposed to accompany belief have all but disappeared in the modern world.

As with most of his records, the subject matter of O Sun O Moon is balanced between social-political commentary and introspective love songs. As an artist, Cockburn has always worn his heart on his sleeve and has never shied away from highly personal and intimate topics. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, like on the otherwise lovely title track, his phrasing is awkward and the right words seem to elude him. He gets tangled and overstates the obvious, but Cockburn’s unrelenting sincerity, and the undeniable beauty of the music, inevitably come to the rescue.

At 77 years of age — well past the three score and ten years allotted to each of us in the Bible — Bruce Cockburn shows no signs of easing up. He is, as he sings on the opening track of O Sun O Moon, clearly “on a roll.”

Photo: Daniel Keebler

May 2023

Bruce Cockburn
Poignant Infinity
by Anil Prasad
Copyright © 2023 Anil Prasad

Bruce Cockburn has consistently upended rock and pop expectations across his long, storied career. The Canadian singer-songwriter, guitarist, and composer has released 35 albums since embarking on his journey as a professional musician in 1967. His material is often infused with deep meaning, including informed and complex perspectives on humanitarian concerns, politics, war, and spirituality. And he combines those views with sophisticated, melodically-driven music that’s enabled it to resonate with people from all walks of life and generations. The numbers speak for themselves. He’s had 22 gold and platinum albums, in addition to 30 charting singles in Canada, the US, and Australia.

Cockburn’s songs aren’t driven by backseat observations of the world. His activist and spiritual leanings have been front and center in his life for decades. He’s a devoted Christian but doesn’t communicate about his path from an evangelical approach. Rather, he lets his actions and outcomes inform his output, focusing on how adhering to positive Biblical teachings have value to everyone, not just Christians.

He’s spent a great deal of time working with Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth, OXFAM, and The David Suzuki Foundation—just to name a few organizations—in their pursuit of critical relief efforts. Cockburn has also been outspoken on issues including climate change, famine, native rights, and third-world debt. In addition, he has spent time in Cambodia, Iraq, Mali, Nepal, Mozambique, Nicaragua, and Vietnam to contribute first-hand to solving the issues those regions face.

His incredible life story was captured in his detailed and evocative autobiography, Rumours of Glory in 2014. A nine-disc box set of the same name was also released that year, chronicling his musical evolution.

At age 77, Cockburn continues propelling forward with his new album O Sun O Moon, and a lengthy tour to support it. The recording is about this moment in time, for Cockburn himself, as well as humanity writ large and the many struggles it faces. It explores the intersections of political manipulation, how spirituality is abstracted from its intentions to drive greed and tribalism, and generational responsibility for stewardship of the planet. Perhaps most importantly, it offers an outlook on keeping one’s own psyche intact during these times.  

Cockburn spoke to Innerviews from his home in San Francisco, where he moved in 2011. He reflected on the inspiration for key tracks from O Sun O Moon within contexts ranging from the personal and existential to the global and societal.

To me, the new album is about priorities, focus, and spirit. What’s your take on the bigger picture it explores?

I think you've described it well. I suppose the focus comes from age more than anything else, but it's also age in the time we're living in. That latter aspect of it is normal for me. Pretty much all of my songs are responses to what I encounter. I mean, unless they're fantasies. There are a couple of those in existence. But basically, my songs reflect the period of time in which they were being written and, in this case, that's the COVID-19 and Trump era, with all this stuff that we've had flung at us.

You’ll hear me exploring myself as an older person in that context. There's a lot of death on this record, but it's not really specifically death itself. Rather, it's the anticipation of the approach of that horizon and the kinds of feelings and thoughts that it engenders. The song “When You Arrive” is about that, but in my mind, it’s a kind of joyful song. Perhaps, darkly joyful or ironically joyful. I don’t see this as a dire thing, but it’s an important thing, worthy of attention. 

The song “O Sun by Day O Moon by Night” also reflects a positive perspective on our inevitable departure. Tell me about the peaceful view it communicates.

Well, I think the negative perspective is everywhere. We entertain ourselves by watching thousands of departures over our lifetime on TV and elsewhere. But for me, it isn't another step. I don't really know what's going to happen. My own belief is that I will be at least faced with an opportunity to get closer to God. What does closer to God mean? That's pretty vague. I don't believe in the Pearly Gates, although the dream in the song you just referred to kind of goes there. Rather, I see all that as symbolic and so I don't really know what it's going to be like.

At the very least, the energy that is contained in your body is going to go out to the universe and you do literally become part of everything. I mean we are now too, but we don't know it because we feel like discrete creatures, but at the point of death, there's a big change that happens.

So, either way, I think the manner of going is the part that scares us and the part that is too often tragic, and sometimes horribly inflicted on us. But the result of the departure I think can be approached with joy, or at least with kind of joyful anticipation. Not that I'm in a hurry or anything, but I think since it's inevitable, death is as much a part of life as birth.

“On a Roll” captures a productive, yet realistic worldview at age 77. Talk about the drive and determination it illustrates about you at this moment.

The adventure continues. I don't take any of it for granted. I do think that it's going to hit the wall at some point. The hands are going to stop working or something else will happen, but for now, I'm able to keep doing this stuff and I think it might have partly to do with having a young daughter. So, I'm experiencing parenthood again in a deeper and more meaningful way than I did the first time around. She’s 11. I also have an older daughter who’s 46. So, I’m coming at it from a whole different perspective than when I was younger. It’s much more welcome and less fraught this time around, even though the world seems to have more to be fraught about as parents, now. Even though I don't feel like a particularly young guy, I'm experiencing a lot of aspects of what it is to be a young adult in this culture.

I also get a lot of energy from the people who listen to the songs, and those who come to shows. I like playing for audiences and I like the travel and always have, so that hasn't changed.

I feel like I've been led through the life that I've had and that continues, and I don't really try to second guess it. I don't take it for granted. It could stop anytime, but I don't know, it's a cliche to say, “I’m living in the moment,” but it has something to do with that.

And also, I feel like the journey isn’t over yet. I could see how you could get there. I think if I were by myself at this age and didn't have a loving family to be in, that might be pretty depressing. Depression sucks up energy like nothing else. I think a lot of people do get depressed because the energy levels go down. They have for me too, but that's offset by fresh things happening, so I guess it's easier to deal with.

“Orders” explores how religion continues to be twisted to serve negative agendas, despite many of them stating we’re supposed to embrace one another, regardless of differences. What are your thoughts about how music can help transcend the socio-religious divides of the world?

I'm not confident that music can change anything, but it would be nice if it did of course. You can never carry that notion too far because you don't know. I do hope that people will be encouraged by “Orders” and what it has to say. It’s one thing to sit there and say, "Oh yeah, we're supposed to love thy neighbor,” but Christians have been failing to live up to that for 2,000 years. And there’s no reason to think we won't keep on failing at that. But it doesn't hurt to be reminded every now and then, that's what we're supposed to be doing.

Christians are under orders to do this, and we should be paying attention to that. And then you start thinking, "Well okay, well what does that mean? Who do I have to love?" And “everybody's” too vague, so I just started giving examples in the song.

After decades of songwriting, what are your thoughts about making messages like that universal, without being didactic?

It's a balancing act, because it’s easy to slip into preaching, and I've been accused of that at times. It's always concerned me, and I feel like I've always had to make an effort not to go there. When you just say some things out loud, it sounds like you're preaching just because of the nature of the material you're spouting. People don't always want to hear my opinion about things true or not. Of course, I think what I’m saying is true, but others might not agree. I do think you’re much more likely to be heard by people if they don't think you're preaching at them.

If you go to church or another religious institution, you expect to be preached at. You've volunteered for that, and it's fine. But outside that context, it's usually on an unwelcome thing. So, what I try to do is just share what I think and feel, and as long as people understand that that's what it is, then they can take it or leave it. They don't need to feel preached at. I've been blessed with an audience over all these years that's willing to listen to this stuff and to varying degrees absorb it, and I'm totally grateful for that.

You emerged as a professional musician in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when activism and confronting difficult truths was more common. There’s a lot less of that these days. What’s your view on that shift?

You could also include the word "fashionable" in that. In the '60s, a lot of people were sounding off because it was fashionable. When it stopped being fashionable, they stopped doing it. Not everyone and the real artists, in my view anyway. The ones who haven’t died have kept that up. They maybe had a different emphasis because times change, and we all change to some extent with them. At least our sense of how we fit in things tends to change.

The media, and radio—which is almost weird to talk about anymore—has relatively little importance in any area, except for the obvious pop stuff. I listen to rock stations when I'm driving my daughter to school because that's the music that she likes to listen to. There's some good stuff in there. Some of it’s not very good, and none of it really addresses much of what I think is worth addressing.

But then I think when I was a teenager, and even before that. I wanted to listen to Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, and they weren't talking about anything very important either. It was a little grittier, at least with Elvis' songs, because he covered so many great blues artists, or at least drew so much from that world.

Pop music's always with us. ABBA's had a resurgence. Who could have imagined that? Back in the '70s, that was kind of a pet hate of mine. Not ABBA specifically, but that part of the music world they represented. I had no use for it at all. They were making effective pop records that were really successful and that's fine. Taylor Swift is also doing that, but I think she’s a better songwriter than the people in ABBA. I hope as she matures, that maturity will apply to her songwriting, because I think she’s good at it.

There are many capable songwriters that perhaps aren’t living up to what I imagined their capacity to be. But that's my imagination talking. Really, I don't know. Once in a while it seems like there's been a window in which radio has accepted other kinds of music other than very produced, commercially-directed kind of stuff. And then the window closes after a while when the radio station changes hands and the new owners want more money, or when somebody discovers that they can make more money doing something else.

I've been lucky that I've been around for a couple of those windows to open and close again. Each time one opens, the audience gets a little bigger and, in my case, it seems like most of the people that have been drawn into my thing have stuck with me.

“To Keep the World We Know” addresses climate change and the idea of looking beyond ourselves. Explore its origins.

The actual song came about because Susan Aglukark called up and wanted to write a song together, and I thought it seemed like a good idea. We had a good time working together on it. The title was mine, but the idea of the world being in flames was hers. We’re seeing all this drought and wildfires all around the world, and it just seemed like something worth writing about.

You think about the future differently when you're the parent of a young child. I think it’s because there's an emotional investment in the future that you can’t ignore. With my daughter, the topic comes up tangentially from time to time. There’s no particular agenda. It's about just paying attention to what's going on. We talk about it a lot in terms of what she encounters, more than what I encounter. I have a perspective that is different. I'm considerably older than my wife as you can imagine, and so her perspective and mine are also different from each other, but I think mutually complementary.

So, I hope that what we can offer to our daughter is to be useful and that each of our excesses can be tempered by the other. Hopefully, we come up with some sort of reasonable advice and a reasonable context for our daughter to grow up in.

O Sun O Moon has an instrumental titled “Haiku,” and you’ve done two all-instrumental albums in recent times with Speechless and Crowing Ignites. How do instrumentals communicate in a unique way for you?

I think if you have lyrics, you hope if a person's paying attention to those lyrics, they'll be drawn into whatever it is they’re about. When you listen to music that does not have lyrics, that doesn't happen and you're free to feel whatever the music brings out in you.

I've always felt like there was a sense of space that went with instrumental music that doesn’t typically happen with songs with lyrics. If I listen to Bob Dylan, I'm thinking about what he's saying, as well as savoring the music and whoever's playing on the record. But if I listen to Japanese flute music or Bach, I'm not doing that. Rather, I'm allowing myself to be transported to wherever that music takes me. For me, that's often a kind of deliciously-wistful poignant infinity. There's a sense of that physical space almost. It's imaginary, but it feels physically combined with time stopping. If you're seriously listening to something, time stops. Those are the powerful effects I really notice with almost any kind of instrumental music.

Tell me about the choice of musicians on the album and the approach you took when recording them.

I really had a great time listening to what everybody brought to it, and I could do that partly because of the way we recorded. We first started with just me and Gary Craig playing drums and percussion, and once we had that down, we brought everybody in to add to it. So, it was fun to get the songs initially recorded, but the great thing about that was I had the luxury then of sitting back and not worrying about my own performance while listening to what everybody else brought in.

Colin Linden, who produced the album, had a great part to play in the choice of musicians, but we talked about it a bunch beforehand as we've done with previous albums. The core band included Victor Krauss on bass and Gary on drums on most of the tracks. Colin came up with Jim Hoke on marimba, clarinet, and sax, and Jeff Taylor on accordion and dolceola.

Jim brought so much to the recording in terms of horn arrangements and marimba playing. It was my idea to have marimba. I've always been a fan of Martin Denny and it seemed like some of these songs would suit that kind of sound, and it worked out.

We also have Sarah Jarosz on mandolin, Jenny Scheinman on violin, and Allison Russell, Shawn Colvin, and Buddy Miller on harmonies. I think this was the first time I’ve worked with Buddy, though I’ve met him many times. So, it was great to get him on the album.

It was really cool and a lot of fun to build the album up the way we did it. I kept getting pleasantly surprised by the results.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve worked this way. The albums I did with T-Bone Burnett, including Nothing but A Burning Light and Dart to the Heart, started in a similar way. For Nothing but A Burning Light, many of the songs were done with just me and a programmed, electronic drum track initially. Then we’d replace the fake drums with the real ones. It’s an easier way to get things done.

With Bone on Bone from 2017, we recorded that all live with the band, in the exact opposite way. We put the band together, got everybody in the studio, and just played, with some overdubs.

Either approach can work. If you’re dealing with a lower budget, the approach we took for the new album is good, because you don’t have to pay for people to wait around while you figure out what you’re doing.

We did have a decent budget for this album. But it felt like the approach we took was a better way to spend the money, and it works just as well, creatively. It’s different, though. You don't get the same sort of spontaneous interplay that you might if you were actually playing live. The lucky accidents are less likely to happen, but on the other hand, you have more control over what happens, too.

Provide some insight into your creative process.

I still just love the guitar. So, sometimes when I'm playing, an idea will come that wants to be an instrumental piece. A riff or ideas that come one after the other can become the bones of an actual composition, and then I'll chase that down and come up with something else for it. So, over the years, there have been quite a few occasions like that.

Writing instrumentals is different from writing songs where it's all about lyrics. I like the sense that instrumental music offers something open to the listener’s interpretation. And playing the piece offers something similar to the performer, without being pinned down to specific lyrical ideas. It feels freer in a way. It’s nice to have instrumental things to do.

Of course, I like writing songs, too. When I write a song, I tend to structure things more formally and I tend to write the guitar parts into the song as a composition. So, I kind of play the same way through it, allowing for the occasional solo in the middle of the song. With the instrumental pieces, I still play them the same way, probably, but there's more of a feeling that this could go anywhere, especially when you get to play it with other people. You just think, "Yeah, we're jamming now. This is good."

What are some of the key challenges you face in your creative process these days, and how do you transcend them?

The challenges are mostly physical. I’ve got arthritic fingers and sore feet, and whatever stuff that goes with being older. Eventually, those things might become impossible to get past. They are obstacles, in a way. Some of the older songs that are very simple I can't play anymore because my fingers just won't make the shapes I need to make. But that's minimal. I foresee there will be a point where the songs I can't play start outnumbering the other ones, and then it's probably time to retire, but we're not there yet.

The only other thing that I might put in that challenge category is having to come up with new stuff all the time. Having to do so is a choice, of course, but I don't want to keep writing the same song. The more I write, the less room there is to come up with new stuff it seems. As much as we can add onto ourselves or subtract from that, as the case may be over time, you're still essentially the same person you were when you started out, and you feel the same way about a lot of things and have the same vision. So, how do I say whatever it is I want to say without repeating myself excessively? Some repetition is going to show up. So, that comes into it in the writing of a song. Sometimes, I'll catch myself at it. I'll write a line, I think “Yeah, that's cool,” and then be like, "Wait a minute, I said that 20 years ago." And so, the question becomes, "Okay, well how can I say that in a fresher way?" I'm always still just figuring out how to write a good song.

When you perform solo, you occupy your own unique universe, surrounded by an expanse of instruments and technology. Describe your setup.

Solo concerts are mostly what are coming up this year. I have multiple guitars, because there are multiple tunings. I don’t want to inflict retuning over and over on the audience. I like being able to pick up ready-to-go guitars and just play. I also like the diversity of sounds. There’s the 12-string and dobro, which bring different sounds to the shows. They offer sonic relief from hearing the same kind of guitar sound throughout the night.

It’s a comfortable setup. I have cables, and little bits and pieces of stuff on a table near me, so I don’t have to hunt for things in my pockets or kick the water bottle over to get to them. I’ve also got a little collection of effects pedals to add variety to the mix.

With the acoustic solo shows, it’s about keeping the sound of one guy’s voice and guitar from being too monotonous over the course of the evening. The outcome is also a product of what happens between me and the audience, too, not just the physical stuff on the stage. It’s as much about what the audience gives back, and what I’m able to give back to them as a result.

I use in-ear monitors, because they’re better for my ears, and much more controllable for whoever’s mixing the house sound. They let me hear what the audience is hearing. I need to have that perspective, to have a sense of what I’m throwing at people.

Do solo concerts offer a greater level of freedom compared to ensemble shows?

In theory, they do offer a little more of that. I tend to do things the same every night once I settle on a set that works for me. The shows tend to be the same night after night, with minor exceptions. But theoretically, that freedom exists, if I were not as inclined to want to stick to a pattern. But that's my nature. I'm just more comfortable when I'm not fretting over whether I'm going to make bad choices as far as the order of the songs go, or just forget what I know.

For the first decade I played solo, I was more spontaneous. I had a list of all my songs on top of my guitar, and I would just look down at that list and think, "Okay, well this one has the capo here and it's in this key and it's up-tempo, and I just did a couple of slow ones, so I guess I'll do this one now." But that was very stressful sometimes, because sometimes you just look at the list and go "What do I do now?" So, I like it better when I've got some sense of flow. I can change it if I want, but when there's a planned show, my current approach works better for me. It’s also better for the lighting person. I can tell them what to expect and set up cues accordingly. It’s helpful to have things organized like that when I have a band, as well.

This is just my way of doing things. I tend to have a greater need to have the set structured. I can easily imagine being in a band where you didn't do that. I've seen Colin Linden play with his bands where he'll just turn around and yell out a song title and then they'll play it. But these days, I feel it's more practical to have a set list.

You’ve witnessed myriad technological transitions in the music industry across your career. What’s your perspective on its current ability to effectively compensate musicians, and the directions it appears to be heading in?

“Effectively compensate” are the key words. It’s one of the basic ingredients of human existence, and it's certainly true in the music world. Lately, it’s an issue because of streaming and the fact that it doesn't really pay royalties. That's a concern and it has made life harder for musicians. In a sort of good way, it's put the emphasis on live performances, which is okay because I think that's when the music is at its most real. But yeah, it would be nice if the various powers that are working on these things could successfully persuade the streamers to pay up.

The music scene has changed totally and it's still in flux. I don't think it has settled anywhere yet. All of a sudden, we're getting AI imitations of famous people. There was an actual virtual pop star in Japan a few years ago. This stuff has been written about in sci-fi books before, but it’s actually happening, and there’s going to be more of that.

Who actually needs humans when you can create a holographic image of somebody that just sounds really great singing and doing whatever? But it won't replace us in the short term, at least. As I heard myself saying that, I was thinking of the old music union guys in Ottawa that were very upset when people started using synthesizers. They felt they would take jobs away from musicians, but it hasn't really worked like that. AI probably won't either, but things are changing all the time. I'm not interested enough in the electronic side of things to want to explore that.

It's not that you can't make good music with machinery. You can, but it's not the same as when people do it. With AI, its function may change too. All of society is moving in the direction of standardizing, unifying, and homogenizing everything. But of course, in our movement in that direction, we're also dealing with elements of chaos, such as mass shootings, war, and pandemics that work in the opposite direction. Politicians use the fragmentation for their own gain. It's hard to say if music's going to reflect all of that and where it's going to go. I have no idea. I won't be around to see it.

I mean things never stop. They’re constantly in motion and they’re never going to land anywhere, as long as we’re people with some capacity for imagination. Things are going to keep moving forward and changing. What I do know is things are hard now for musicians. I wish it was easier for musicians to make a living playing music, especially young ones getting started.

Those of us who've been around for long enough to have an audience are not in as difficult a situation, but if I were starting out now, how would I get heard? Where would I go? I could put stuff out online and maybe I'll get lucky, and somebody will notice it. But millions of other things are coming out at the same time. You can find good stuff online, but there’s a lot of amateur attempts that you have to weed through to get to the good stuff, unless where you know what you’re looking for.

Do you plan for the long term with your career or is it more of a case of going with the flow?

The songs on the new album have been in progress for the last couple of years, and it’s just about to come out. So, it's going to be the focus for the short term. It’s not new for me to be in this position because I don't really plan ahead with respect to songwriting at all. Once in a while, I have the feeling that I want to go in a particular direction, but that is usually really just about a particular song. Should it be focused on electric guitar or acoustic guitar? What kind of music do these words want? But in terms of the big picture, I'm not much of a planner. Right now, we've got gigs booked across the next 12 months, and that's about as far ahead as I'm taking it. We’ll see what happens creatively between now and then. The field is wide open.

May 1, 2023

Review by Pete Icke

In 53 years of writing and recording, there’s been an undercurrent of spirituality in the music of Canadian Bruce Cockburn. He’s always had a knack for painting a picture of his Christian faith in a way that doesn’t hit you over the head, using the beauty and mystery of the natural world to illustrate the wonder of it all (just listen to my all-time favorite album of his, Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws, and you’ll know what I mean). 

His innate kindness and empathy for his fellow humans has always drawn me to him. Bruce Cockburn is one of the good ones (and criminally underappreciated in these United States, but I’ll digress). 

With O Sun O Moon, due out May 12th on True North records, Bruce’s spiritual side steps out of the shadows and, well, “Into the Now.” 

Bruce Cockburn will turn 78 this month, and after a tough collective few years for all of us, Bruce brings out themes of faith, mortality, love, conflict and climate in this beautiful collection of songs. 

Recorded at on/off band member, album producer & pal Colin Linden’s backyard studio in Nashville, the album features some quality guests – from Buddy Miller and Sarah Jarosz to Shawn Colvin and Allison Russell (have you heard Nightflyer?). 

From the get go, Bruce faces that ticking clock and his faith head on with “I’m On A Roll”: 

Pressure building left and right / Timer ticking, just out of sight / I’m taking shelter in the light

Time takes its toll / But in my soul / I’m on a roll 

The powerful “Orders” addresses the oft overlooked yet plain and simple mantra of “Love thy neighbor”: 

The sweet, the vile, the small, the tall The one who rises to the call / The list is long — as I recall / Our orders said to love them all 

Not an easy concept to adhere to, is it? But nonetheless, as Bruce illustrates so well throughout the record, it’s the foundation of his faith. 

With the backing of Shawn Colvin’s beautiful voice, the sweet, laid back front-porch feel of “Push Comes to Shove” continues the message: “push comes to shove / It’s all about love.”

In July 2021, Bruce vacationed in Maui with Dr. Jeff Garner, the lead pastor of the San Francisco Lighthouse church, which Bruce attends. In addition to helping lead a Sunday service, Bruce spent some quality time writing tunes. The first song he wrote is my personal favorite, “Into the Now,” which has been a staple of his solo acoustic showever since (I was lucky enough to see him play it in Scottsdale last year). It’s a Cockburn special: timely, poignant lyrics, a chorus that varies each of the first three times before tying all together exquisitely at the end; strung together words like: “Light as the feet of birds hunting on sod / Love trickles down like honey from God”; Sarah Jarosz on harmonies and mandolin. I mean, come on (!), it gets no better. 

Another Maui-written song, “Colin Went Down To The Water” was released to streaming services a few weeks back. Featuring background vocals by Allison Russell (seriously, have you heard Nightflyer?), Buddy Miller and Colin Linden, the spiritual call and response of the song instantly connected with me (listen below). 

The third Maui song is “King of the Bolero,” where Bruce channels a raspy, bluesy vocal to tell the story of a nightclub guitarist who’s “Got a double chin all the way round his neck / And a pot belly in the back.” Not a flattering image, and it makes me wonder who inspired this (internet sleuthing tells me the nightclub in the the Maui Grand Wailea Hotel is the Botero lounge. The Colombian artist Botero is mentioned in the song. Did Bruce write this while taking in some entertainment at the Botero? Hmm…).

Bruce’s resonator guitar, Gary Craig’s glockenspiel, Viktor Strauss’s bowed bass and Jenny Scheinman’s gorgeous violin usher in the sublime “Us All” (also available on the streaming services). It’s a hypnotic, mournful plea to “let kindness reign for Us All.” 

The welcome sound of Bruce’s dulcimer rings in “To Keep the World We Know,” a sobering take on climate change, sung with indigenous Canadian artist Susan Aglukark (who sings in a native Inuit language called Inuktitut). An important message; and rhythmically reminiscent of Bruce’s great 1977 tune “Arrows of Light.

The closing songs of O Sun O Moon bring it all back to the theme of faith & mortality in their own unique ways. The penultimate tune is the prayerful “O Sun By Day O Moon By Night,” featuring spoken word verses building to a joyous chorus prayer with gospel-soaked background vocals:

O sun by day o moon by night / Light my way so I get this right / And if that sun and moon don’t shine/ Heaven guide these feet of mine / To Glory

The album finale, “When You Arrive,” culminates in a singalong chorus featuring the full cast of previously mentioned characters. With a sauntering, New Orleans style rhythm, the repeated chorus brings to my mind an image of Bruce and the gang second-lining lazily down a French Quarter street, shuffling contently off into the distance – firm in their faith – and ready for whatever may be waiting around corner. 

Photos by Daniel Keebler (1) In the studio recording O Sun O Moon in Nashville in October 2022  (2) Concert in Bozeman, Montana, in May 2022

March 25, 2023
ListynKC In Persyn Presents Bruce Cockburn in Conversation

Warmed by the Stolen Fire
by S. Portico Bowman

My husband Tom asked me if I was excited. We were making the relatively short drive from our home to the University of Missouri-Kansas City Student Union in Kansas City, MO to attend ListynKC InPersyn Presents Bruce Cockburn in Conversation from 6:30 – 9:30 pm. However, it would be 11:00 pm before we got in the car to drive home.

I told him excited was the wrong word. I’m a writer. I live in words. Awe was the better choice. Not only was I not driving a long distance for a Bruce Cockburn concert, I wasn’t going to a concert. The typical theatre that keeps the audience a stingy distance from the performer was being replaced with something akin to the living room. 

Kelsyn Rooks, host of KC’s listening experience, ListynKC took to the stage moments before Mr. Cockburn opened his February 15 concert at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kansas. I thought he was going to ask for money for any one of Mr. Cockburn’s associated humanitarian interests. Instead, Kelsyn told us about the Center for Recorded Music. He shared their vision dedicated to the concept of social listening and learning anchored in sharing the artistic, technical, and social histories of recorded music on a stereo system worth more than a condo in Florida. And he was inviting us to come share an evening with Bruce Cockburn and ListynKC in a three-hour program of conversation, and music. This would not be a concert, but it would be a time of intimate connection and communication dedicated to the album, Stealing Fire. My ticket was purchased before Kelsyn walked off the stage. Kansas City is where I live. I could walk if I had to. I didn’t have to. 

The three-hour program turned into four. Mr. Cockburn and Kelsyn shared a passionate space of dialogue that passed back and forth around a thoughtful musical playlist of Mr. Cockburn’s early musical influences, and his own recordings. There was an ease and a joy to the conversation and the curated playlist that brought Mr. Cockburn’s creative process into reach. The evening began with a recording of the “Ritual Fire Dance” by Manuel de Falla. This is the recording that opened Mr. Cockburn to the power of musical experience. He was just a young boy. His father had played for the family the new Record of the Month. Mr. Cockburn told his dad he saw naked people dancing around the fire. His father thought that wasn’t possible but for Mr. Cockburn it was. From this moment on the musical fire has been burning.

The flame this past Saturday night was tended by Kelsyn’s careful questions. A gentle environment warmed the audience, and the light was all around. We were listening to the mysterious creative power of Mr. Cockburn and looking into the kaleidoscope of his musical ability. The conversation flowed back and forth with a rhythm tended by the sincere attention and connection between Mr. Cockburn and Kelsyn. There was an outline Kelsyn had prepared but it was bending and dancing as the conversation emerged. I was a witness to a creative process merging in the body of us all attentive to the privileged condition we were in. No one was rushing us out of the theatre. There was no bad “seat” in the room. We were in a space that made every seat a perfect seat. I resisted my twinge to try and get closer. I was close enough by virtue of being in the room. 

However, what made the evening so profound was the sense of time, and expanding time as Mr. Cockburn talked, and we listened. No one was rushed. We were all present and accounted for. We spent four hours as words shaped in the form of love as musical sound gave us direct insight into how music has made this man, Bruce Cockburn, and then how this musical man has made the world I live in more bearable. 

We ended the evening with the uninterrupted listening to both sides of Stealing Fire. The stereo system did not disappoint. The Klipsch La Scala II speakers, Audio Note amplifiers and turntable rearranged my senses. I could taste the music and feel the fire. I didn’t need to steal a thing. 

Mr. Cockburn’s presence and interest and appreciation for us was profoundly sincere. He stayed and waited till everyone last one of us had our final taste of the evening. Mr. Cockburn’s generosity in this regard was a poignant luxury. The entire experience was a magnificent gift.   

Always I am grateful for Bruce Cockburn who demonstrated to me, early on when deciding not just how to live – but why – that the resilient beauty of the creative life is also a life of service to the truth. Mr. Cockburn’s life has made all the difference to mine. Thank you. Truly.

Thank you, ListynKC.

Editor’s note: More about this project at the Center For Recorded Music website.
Photo by Michael Kiss

March 6, 2023
Grateful Web

Bruce Cockburn Reaches For The Heavens With New Album, O Sun O Moon
Set for release on May 12, 2023

Contributed by Mark Pucci Media

Revered Singer-Songwriter & Activist Bruce Cockburn Reaches for the Heavens with New Album, O Sun O Moon

“Time takes its toll,” sings the 77-year-old Bruce Cockburn on the opening song, “On A Roll,” his 35th album, O Sun O Moon, out on May 12 via True North Records.  “But in my soul / I’m on a roll.”

Bruce Cockburn has enjoyed an illustrious career shaped by politics, spirituality, and musical diversity. His remarkable journey has seen him embrace folk, jazz, rock, and worldbeat styles while earning high praise as a prolific, inspired songwriter and accomplished guitarist. He remains deeply respected for his activism and humanist song lyrics that thread throughout his career. On all his albums Cockburn has deftly captured the joy, pain, fear, and faith of human experience in song.

O Sun O Moon is his first vocal album since 2017’s Bone on Bone. It’s also only the third album Cockburn has released since writing his memoirs (2013’s widely acclaimed Rumours of Glory), after which he felt creatively spent. He doesn’t feel that way now. A lot has happened in the zeitgeist in the last six years, and the renowned singer-songwriter has plenty to talk about.  While he addresses political calamity on “Orders,” and climate change on “To Keep the World We Know” (featuring popular Indigenous Canadian artist Susan Aglukark singing in Inuktitut), Cockburn largely focuses on spiritual connections, forgiveness, and love — in ways that perhaps only a performer of his experience can do. Except that Cockburn has always done that, from his 1970 debut onwards.

What will go wrong will go wrong
What will go right will go right
Push come to shove
It’s all about love

-From Push Comes To Shove, Words & Music by Bruce Cockburn

O Sun O Moon finds Cockburn again working with his close friend Colin Linden as producer, who doubles on guitar, along with Janice Powers on keyboards and Gary Craig on drums, the album features bassist Viktor Krauss, drummer Chris Brown, accordionist Jeff Taylor, violinist Jenny Scheinman and multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke. Cockburn’s guest vocalists include Shawn Colvin, Buddy Miller as well as mellifluous singers Allison Russell, Sarah Jarosz and Ann and Regina McCrary, daughters of gospel great Rev. Samuel McCrary, one of the founders of the Fairfield Four.

Bruce Cockburn has won 13 JUNO Awards, an induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, and has been made an Officer of the Order of Canada, among many other accolades. He has 22 gold and platinum records including a six-times platinum record for his Christmas album. Cockburn continues to tour internationally.

He’s on a roll.


1. On a Roll 3:31

2. Orders 4:44

3. Push Come to Shove 4:12

4. Colin Went Down to the Water 4:41

5. Into the Now 4:15

6. Us All 4:40

7. To Keep the World We Know 3:30

8. King of the Bolero 5:24

9. When the Spirit Walks in the Room 4:15

10. Haiku 4:01

11. O Sun by Day O Moon by Night 3:50

12. When You Arrive 4:33

March 6, 2023
Broadway World

Bruce Cockburn to Release New Album 'O Sun O Moon' in May
by Michael Major Mar. 06, 2023

His 35th album, O Sun O Moon, will be out on May 12

"Time takes its toll," sings the 77-year-old Bruce Cockburn on the opening song, "On A Roll," his 35th album, O Sun O Moon, out on May 12 via True North Records. "But in my soul / I'm on a roll."

Bruce Cockburn has enjoyed an illustrious career shaped by politics, spirituality, and musical diversity. His remarkable journey has seen him embrace folk, jazz, rock, and worldbeat styles while earning high praise as a prolific, inspired songwriter and accomplished guitarist. He remains deeply respected for his activism and humanist song lyrics that thread throughout his career. On all his albums Cockburn has deftly captured the joy, pain, fear, and faith of human experience in song.

O Sun O Moon is his first vocal album since 2017's Bone on Bone. It's also only the third album Cockburn has released since writing his memoirs (2013's widely acclaimed Rumours of Glory), after which he felt creatively spent. He doesn't feel that way now. A lot has happened in the zeitgeist in the last six years, and the renowned singer-songwriter has plenty to talk about.

While he addresses political calamity on "Orders," and climate change on "To Keep the World We Know" (featuring popular Indigenous Canadian artist Susan Aglukark singing in Inuktitut), Cockburn largely focuses on spiritual connections, forgiveness, and love - in ways that perhaps only a performer of his experience can do. Except that Cockburn has always done that, from his 1970 debut onwards.

O Sun O Moon finds Cockburn again working with his close friend Colin Linden as producer, who doubles on guitar, along with Janice Powers on keyboards and Gary Craig on drums, the album features bassist Viktor Krauss, drummer Chris Brown, accordionist Jeff Taylor, violinist Jenny Scheinman and multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke.

Cockburn's guest vocalists include Shawn Colvin, Buddy Miller as well as mellifluous singers Allison Russell, Sarah Jarosz and Ann and Regina McCrary, daughters of gospel great Rev. Samuel McCrary, one of the founders of the Fairfield Four.

Bruce Cockburn has won 13 JUNO Awards, an induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, a Governor General's Performing Arts Award, and has been made an Officer of the Order of Canada, among many other accolades. He has 22 gold and platinum records including a six-times platinum record for his Christmas album. Cockburn continues to tour internationally.

February 10, 2023
Winnipeg Free Press

Bruce Cockburn’s lyrics, voice ring as true today as in 1972
Folk legend celebrates five decades of making music
by Alan Small

Other than modern microphones and guitars, a tidy Letterman beard and a walking stick, Bruce Cockburn’s concert setup likely hasn’t changed much since he began touring in the early 1970s.

A stool, a box to rest his left foot and a music stand graced a mostly empty Burton Cummings Theatre stage at his sold-out 50th-anniversary concert Friday night that cast a musical spell on the crowd.

His voice has stood up to the test of time, too, and whether he sang tunes he wrote in 1971 or 2022, the 77-year-old’s vocals remained far smoother than most artists his age who continue to tour.

What’s really changed since 1970 is that Cockburn has an overflowing sack of songs he’s written and recorded that have become standards in the folk-music lexicon.

Many of the topics he’s written about, such as the fragility of our environment, remain as topical in 2023 as when his self-titled debut album came out in 1970.

”You’re going to hear some old stuff, some new stuff… stuff from the Pleistocene period,” he joked after playing After the Rain, from 1979, and a relative newbie, Night Train, from 1996. “Perhaps this is late Roman Empire.”

While many acts young and old can get a musical lift from accompanying musicians or amplifiers that can drown out a guitarist’s flub, Cockburn allowed himself no such crutch Friday. He strummed a pretty cool six-string, and during Night Train grooved as relentlessly as a locomotive.

Cockburn kicked it up a notch later with an instrumental, The End of All Rivers, showing off some mighty finger-picking on a steel guitar that was mesmerizing.

He heartened back at many moments of his life during the show, whether it was his first trip to Central America with the charity Oxfam, or his worries about whether he’d lost his touch after he spent a couple of years writing his memoir, Rumours of Glory, in 2014.

“Are you still a songwriter?” he recalled saying as he looked at himself in the mirror at the time.

Fortunately for us, a documentary about Canadian poet Al Purdy wanted a song from Cockburn, and he was able to create 3 Al Purdys from the perspective of a penniless man who remembered Purdy’s verses, which was a highlight from Cockburn’s opening set.

The setlist ranged from 1971’s Let Us Go Laughing, from Cockburn’s second album, High Winds, White Sky, to a new tune early in his second set, When the Spirit Walks in the Room, which he began performing in concerts last year and will be part of an upcoming album of new works.

It will add to Cockburn’s trove of more than 350 songs he’s recorded since 1970, and When the Spirit Walks in the Room fits well among many Cockburn classics that speak to equality and how we’re part of a global community.

“You’re a thread upon the loom / When the spirit walks in the room,” he sang during its chorus.

The show had an intermission, letting Cockburn and his crowd stretch out after an hour-long opening set.

“Time to check on the babysitter… or the old folks’ sitter,” he joked for the crowd, most of whom have followed him his entire career, which includes seven appearances at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, the show’s presenter.

There was also room Friday for Cockburn’s hits such as Lovers in a Dangerous Time, and he can still hit the high notes that helped make the song a radio staple when it came out in 1984.

While some of Cockburn’s topical songs from the past still resonate today, songs such as Stolen Land, which he wrote about the Haida in 1987, ring even truer today. The lyrics are almost ripped from current events: “Kidnap all the children / Put ‘em in a foreign system / Bring ‘em up in no man’s land / Where no one really wants them.”

It earned whoops and applause as loud as Cockburn’s famous hits, including Wondering Where the Lions Are, one of the evening’s closers.

Photo by Mike Sudoma/Winnipeg Free Press

February 2, 2023
The Daily Courier

Canadian legend Bruce Cockburn coming to Kelowna this weekend
By Anna Jacyszyn

Sitting down for a morning chat with Canadian music legend and member of the Order of Canada, Bruce Cockburn, it felt like meeting Canadian Royalty. I sensed a gentle smile and silent chuckle as I clumsily admitted I lost track of time due to the fact I had prepared myself for our interview far too early, then decided to read another chapter of Prince Harry’s book SPARE. We took a moment to chat about that. Cockburn admitted he was not one to read celebrity sensationalism or even want to, but in the circumstance of the moment, said he felt empathy for the prince, surmising that “he seems like a nice guy who fell in love with a pretty girl and now getting a raw deal because he wants to tell his side of the story.”

Cockburn expressed relief that his own tabloid experiences were gentle waves compared to the tsunami of invasive gossip this royal couple is having to endure.

As we moved through conversational topics and his own current affairs, I got the sense that this 77-year-old Canadian multi-platinum recording artist does not rest on his laurels but continues to create new music and is excited to start a 20-date concert tour of the U.S. and Canada, stopping at the Kelowna Community Theatre to perform on Sunday, Feb. 5.

This tour was supposed to happen in 2020 with 100 dates, celebrating 50 years as a recording artist and coinciding with the release of a greatest hits album curated from his 34 record-strong discography. But, due to a world-wide pandemic, that tour was cancelled, until now.

The greatest hits double album has a total of 30 songs that takes listeners on a chronological journey from his first single, “Going to the Country” (1970) to the last song on the disc 2, “States I’m In” (2017), showcasing his range of musical styles – from folk, blues, gospel, jazz, and echoes of funk, reggae, pop and rock.

Each song has a liner note written by Cockburn himself. We spoke about those memories that surfaced while penning the paragraphs of memorable anecdotes pertaining to each song. He also confided that a brand new album will be released in May with fresh music and lyrics – which proves the point that Cockburn continues to be a tour de force in the record music business with no warning of slowing down.

Bruce Douglas Cockburn was born in Ottawa, Ont. on May 27, 1945. Interested in music as a young boy, he learned to play clarinet and trumpet in school, but it wasn’t until he was 14 years old that he concentrated his musical efforts on guitar, piano, and music theory. While at Berklee College of Music in Boston, studying jazz composition with guitar as the instrument, Cockburn realized that music was his future but the path he was on was the wrong one.

After two and a half years at school, he moved back to his hometown, and “fell in” with a few musicians; one being Peter Hodgson (best known today as Sneezy Waters). “Sneezy opened me up to a whole new world of folk guitar playing that I was not aware of and we did a lot of playing together,” says Cockburn.

“Playing music with these guys, listening to Dylan, The Beatles and other writers of the era, and my love for writing poetry was the intuitive realization that this was the road I needed to take,” said Cockburn.

By the end of ’60’s Cockburn had enough songs to make his first record and needed to relieve himself of this music so he could “empty his vessel and fill it with more,” thinking naively that was how the creative process worked.

As luck would have it, he bumped into his friend Gene Martynec, at a coffeeshop in Yorkville and confessed he was itching to make a record.  Martynec’s band, Kensington Market, had recently broken up and he was looking to get into the production side of music, so they hatched a plot to work together, and knowing that ex manager Bernard Finkelstein wanted to start a record label, aka; True North – the timing was perfect, and the stars aligned.

The budget was obtainable because Bruce didn’t want a huge production and costly extras, he just wanted his art on vinyl.

Cockburn’s debut album of the same name was released in 1970 through True North Records and is still the only label Cockburn has ever released music through.

A career that continues with accolades to include Inductee into the Canada’s Walk Of Fame (2021), Canadian Songwriter and Canadian Music Hall of Fame (2017), Winner of Folk Alliance’s People’s Voice Award, as well 13 Juno awards from more than 30 nominations. Labelled as “the voice for our conscience,” Cockburn consistently highlights environmental, social, and indigenous issues and puts his lyrics where his heart is by supporting various causes, highlighting the work of Oxfam, the UN Summit for climate control, and the international campaign to ban landmines, among others.

He has toured and conducted fact-finding trips in Mozambique, Nepal, Vietnam, Baghdad, and Guatemala. He holds nine honourary doctorates and is a member of the Order of Canada. I asked him about these accolades and honours and as a reply he says “they are humbling and pleasing but they are not the essence of why I create …but the affirmation feels good!” 

Bruce tells me that he has been to Kelowna numerous times and the Okanagan was always a favoured destination, adding “its such a beautiful route, I love it there.”

Bruce Cockburn will be at the Kelowna Community Theatre, Sunday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m.

February 2, 2023
Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Bruce Cockburn looks forward to Saskatoon stop on tour
by Jocelyn Bennett

Canadian music legend Bruce Cockburn has been writing and performing songs for more than 50 years.

His current tour, following a digital release of Rarities, brings him back to Saskatoon for the first time in many years.

“I’m really looking forward to being on the road, and looking forward to getting to Saskatoon. It’s been a while,” he said in a recent interview.

Cockburn performs at TCU Place on February 9.

Ahead of his performance, he chatted with the StarPhoenix about his music and his career.

Q: What is most important to you about your music, and what keeps you going?

A: Well, keeping going is not challenging, other than coming up with new ideas. I like what I do and I want to keep doing it. But the older I get, the longer I have to wait for ideas for things that I haven’t already thought of. (Laughs).

From the point of view of the music being out there, the important thing is for it to be as high quality as I can make it and to offer something. I don’t think art has to necessarily be about anything, but when you put words with a song, then, generally speaking, they are about something. So, it’s important to me to have those words be saying things that are meaningful and that are expressing those things in a way that works artistically, and also in terms of people’s ability to grasp what’s being said.

Q: Why did you decide to release Rarities as a digital album?

A: The idea was to put out a collection of these songs that were included, originally, in a box set we did when my book came out a few years ago (Rumours of Glory, 2014). We’ve added two more songs for this release.

A few years have gone by and it just seems like a good idea to make stuff available to everybody. I like the idea of people hearing the songs, especially a couple of the obscure demos of songs that were never recorded. They come up pretty well.

Q: How does it feel to have had so many of your songs covered by other artists?

A: Well, it’s gratifying, of course. I mean, it’s nice not to exist in a vacuum. The idea that somebody else heard something that they could relate to well enough to want to sing it themselves, that’s a nice feeling.

Q: Do you have a favourite cover?

A: Michael Occhipinti, Toronto jazz guitar player, has done beautiful versions of my stuff. I think if I had to pick one, it’d probably be that. They’re instrumental versions, for the most part. He kind of deconstructs the songs and rebuilds them, using my elements, but in a way that still comes out sounding respectful of the original material, which is quite a challenge and makes it very interesting for me to hear.

Q: What do you look forward to most in live performances?

A: Oh, the feeling that grows between me and the audience. I mean, when everything works right — which it does more than half the time, and maybe more than that, even — what you get is the sense of sharing with this group of people. In a big hall, that group of people loses its sense of being made up of individuals and becomes a collective personality that you engage with from the stage. When the connection gets established, it feels really good. And I think it’s probably the same for the audience. That’s the nicest effect of the shows for me.

Q: Is there a performance that’s especially memorable for you?

A: When we started touring with the second attempt at the 50th anniversary tour in 2022, there were some shows early in that tour that really stood out — partly because audiences and me, both, were very excited about being out after being cooped up for a couple of years. There was a sense of adventure about it that was a bit unusual. There was such a sense of the lid being off and people getting away with something, and it was really great. It was a nice thing to be part of.

Q: With no sign of stopping anytime soon, what’s next?

A: Just a bunch of touring. We have a new album that’s going to come out in May, (then) there’s more touring to follow that. I don’t look much further ahead than that.

February 1, 2023
Vancouver Sun

Bruce Cockburn looks back at career with release of Rarities collection
The latest from celebrated folk rocker Bruce Cockburn is a study in changing styles and guitar chops.

by Stuart Derdeyn

With a career spanning five decades, 35 albums and 400-plus songs, how did Bruce Cockburn narrow down the dozen ditties that make up his new Rarities record?

“It’s like turning over old mouldy newspaper clippings, looking through a scrapbook that’s been in the back of a drawer and discovering,” said Cockburn. “Some, like Grinning Moon, from the early 1990s, instantly and clearly takes me back to the mood I was in when I wrote it. But Bird Without Wings, which is the oldest one on the album, is so far in the past that the edges are well worn off of the memories.”

Most of the material on Rarities was previously only available on his Rumours of Glory limited edition box set. The album is not only a career-spanning collection by the Ottawa-born, 13 time Juno award winning artist, it’s also a tour of his considerable talents on the guitar, perhaps highlighted by the advance single theme for Waterwalker. The title track theme from a 1983 NFB film directed by Bill Mason, the tune is a study in atmospheric guitar riffs layered one upon the other with only a few seconds of breathy singing from Cockburn.

The Officer of the Order of Canada says his instrumental chops have really developed over the decades. But he still sees his playing as a more sophisticated version of what he started off trying to do in the mid-’60s.

“It didn’t really develop the way it has until the early 1970s, and has grown since,” he said. “Being fairly well-educated in jazz and classical theory with trumpet and clarinet as a kid, plus guitar lessons beginning at age 14, I was always interested in a wider variety of more complicated music than many of the people I hung out with. Ultimately, a lot of what I’ve done is take principles of playing like Mississippi John Hurt’s fingerpicking where he does both lead and rhythm and apply it to much more complex stuff because I have been exposed and educated in it.”

Bird Without Wings displays Cockburn’s developmental approach fusing disparate styles into a sound signature. He recalls exactly where the initial inspiration for the track came from. In some ways, you can hear that this was a performer who had realized dreams of being a rock-‘n’-roller weren’t going to happen, but something else could.

“I was listening to a Jesse Colin Young, I don’t remember which it was, that had a particular fingerpicked riff I thought would fit well with the lyrics of the song,” he said. “By the end of high school, I was more fascinated with writing music for large jazz ensembles than rock ‘n’ roll and went to Berklee School of Music to pursue that. But with the great songwriting coming out from Dylan, the Beatles and the Boston folk scene, I became steeped in that and dropped out to return to Canada and start playing in a group.”

So began a career that has a trove of gold and platinum-certified recordings and such frequently covered classics as Lovers in a Dangerous Time and Wondering Where the Lions Are, among other tunes. As he prepares for the coming solo tour in support of Rarities, a trio of key recordings are also being re-released on 180 gram black vinyl — 1996’s Charity of Night, 1999’s Breakfast in New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu and the 1970 Bruce Cockburn debut that began it all.

“There is a lot to choose from to play on the tour, including songs from Crowing Ignites, which didn’t get the usual support arriving at the time it did in the pandemic,” he said. “There are the reissues and also a brand new album we’ve just finished due for release in May called Oh Sun, Oh Moon. It’s a bit confusing trying to figure out what to do with it all.”

The new material includes a climate change song co-written with Inuk singer/songwriter Susan Aglukark, as well as a few songs he has been performing recently on tour as they seemed topical.

“I’ve been doing a few last year on tour as well which are an attempt to address the lack of civility and compassion that we see all around us of late,” he said. “In terms of instrumentation and general sound, I think the new album certainly drew upon the fact it was done at Colin Linden’s studio in Nashville and drew upon the incredibly deep talent base of musicians there. It’s full of some really lovely playing and Allison Russell sings on a few songs.”

Cockburn has been focusing on solo performances in recent years, keeping the band gigs to only a specific few where it “made sense.” He doesn’t so much plan these events as having them just “come out.” Fans have come to know that any setting they see this artist perform in will be a win.

Bruce Cockburn Canadian tour dates:

Feb. 2, 2023  Royal Theatre  Victoria BC Canada
Feb. 4, 2023
  Centre for the Performing Arts  Vancouver BC Canada
Feb. 5, 2023
  Community Theatre  Kelowna BC Canada
Feb. 6, 2023 
 Jack Singer Theatre  Calgary AB Canada
Feb. 8, 2023 
 Winspear Centre  Edmonton AB Canada
Feb. 9, 2023
  TCU Place  Saskatoon SK Canada
Feb. 10, 2023 
 Burton Cummings Theatre  Winnipeg MB Canada

January 25, 2023

Bruce Cockburn looks back, moves ahead
by Fred Cameron

One of Canada’s finest musicians, Bruce Cockburn is difficult to define. His unique blend of folk, rock,  jazz, and blues has led Cockburn on a musical journey that has spanned seven decades and produced 22 gold records, countless awards and accolades, and 9 million albums sold.

A 2020 tour was booked to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his self-titled debut but was cancelled due to COVID; however, Cockburn’s now returning to town. He’s now unsure how to describe the tour, as he says at least one of the shows is being billed as a 50th anniversary show but he points to December’s digital release Rarities as well as his upcoming album O Sun O Moon, coming out on May 12, as being equally important to the tour.

Bruce Cockburn is returning to Victoria in February (photo provided).

Cockburn says that audiences can look forward to hearing at least a couple of songs from the upcoming record, which he says sounds like a typical ’70s Cockburn album in a lot of ways. However, he adds a disclaimer to avoid misleading fans who know those records.

“I think of it as being in the same world as In the Falling Dark or Further Adventures Of or something of that era—not musically at all but not not musically either,” says Cockburn. “The songs don’t sound like the songs from back then exactly, but the way we approached putting the album together was more like that. That’s a little obscure, but you’ll understand what I mean when you hear it.”

Long recognized for his political presence, Cockburn says he has never really thought of himself as an activist but he recognizes that the world around him shapes his writing. The issues that we’re surrounded by are all the same ones that have always been with us, except, Cockburn says, a lot of those issues are a little closer to the tipping point.

“War isn’t new in the world and the destruction of the environment isn’t new in the world. Our culture has pulled it all together,” he says. “Everything that happens everywhere affects everybody. The same themes are showing up on the songs from the new album.”

Cockburn says that if you can’t speak to each other coming from a place of tolerance and respect, you can’t get anywhere because you just fight with people.

“We’re seeing it increasingly,” he says. “It’s partly the internet; It’s partly Donald Trump; it’s partly the pressure that everyone’s feeling from the threats we’re faced with. There’s fear of nuclear war now after most people were able to avoid thinking about it for a long time. It’s always been there but I guess what I have to say about those things is coming out in song right now.”

These days Cockburn is living in San Francisco as a full-time dad to an 11-year-old daughter, which shapes his days.

“We’re up at 6:15 and I get her to school and then do whatever I’ve got going on that day, which at my age is usually medical,” he says. “Nothing major but ongoing stuff that I think everybody my age deals with.”

Cockburn says that being a father influences his feelings about the future.

“I’ve had a life, quite a lot of it actually,” says Cockburn. “It might not affect me but that horizon is obviously approaching. Any of us can look at that horizon and think, ‘I’m not gonna be around for that so I’m not gonna worry about it,’ but that’s never been my approach. Especially now, with grandchildren and children who are going to have to deal with it. It lights a little fire under you.”

Bruce Cockburn
8 pm Thursday, February 2
$58 and up, Royal Theatre
Victoria, BC

January 13, 2023
The Bluegrass Situation

For Bruce Cockburn, The Job Is To Tell The Truth Of The Human Experience
by Lynne Margolis

This interview was conducted on November 10, 2022

Fifty-five years into a career that has earned him superstar status in Canada, singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn is in a reflective mood. In November, he released Rarities, a digital collection of songs previously available only in his very limited-edition Rumours of Glory box set, plus four tracks plucked from tribute compilations and remastered, one very early demo (“Bird Without Wings,” from 1966) and a track heard only on the Japanese version of Life Short Call Now (“Twilight On the Champlain Sea,” featuring Ani DiFranco). He also reissued audiophile-quality editions of his self-titled 1970 debut album, 1996’s Charity of Night and 1999’s Breakfast In New Orleans, Dinner In Timbuktu.

The San Francisco resident, 77, also became a U.S. citizen in November, a development he calls “quite exciting.” (His wife and 11-year-old daughter are American-born.) In January, he’s kicking off another tour, during which he’ll likely perform tracks from an album he just finished recording. He plans to release the still-untitled work sometime in 2023.

BGS: So what prompted the Rarities release now?

Cockburn: It just seemed like a good time. When my book [the 2014 memoir, Rumours of Glory] came out, we put together a 10-CD box set with all the songs discussed in the book. And there was one disc of rarities. This record is basically the same record, except there’s a couple of extra songs, and there were only 1,000 copies of that box made, so the idea was to get these obscure things — some go back to the ‘60s even, so that is historical stuff, and some live performances and some film music that was never released elsewhere — into wider circulation.

BGS: On “Bird Without Wings,” I was struck by the self-doubt of some of the lyrics, which doesn’t surprise me in someone’s early work. I wonder if you would still write a song like that today?

That’s an interesting question. Probably not, not exactly that. I mean, I recognize the person. But my life has been through a lot of changes since then. Back then it was so personal, I hardly ever sang it in public. But a band called 3’s a Crowd recorded it. I didn’t particularly like their version; it was a little too processed for my tastes. That album was produced by Mama Cass and I’m assuming she applied the techniques that the Mamas & the Papas used to get their harmonies, and it might have suited them, but it didn’t really work with that band. In my view, anyway.

BGS: You bring up an interesting point regarding how you feel when somebody records your song. Some artists are like, how I feel about it is how big the checks are when they arrive.

Well, that’s a factor, too. It’s not a simple thing. They were more or less friends of mine, so it was a bit awkward. They may have felt that I was less their friend after they heard what I thought of their version, but I wouldn’t be as bothered now, either. When I wrote that song, I’d probably just turned 21. As well as being too personal to sing for people, it was so personal that any sort of departure from my concept of how the song should sound was really hard to deal with. That’s not the case now. I have opinions about different people’s versions of my stuff, but I’ve heard a lot more things happen to my songs since then. Some better, some worse. I’d be more charitable now.

BGS: When Folk Alliance International gave you its inaugural People’s Voice Award — created to recognize “an individual who unabashedly embraces social and political commentary in their creative work and public career” — in 2017, you noted it was the first honor you received in the United States. It seems like acknowledgement in this country has been uneven for you.

Yeah. There’s an audience that allows me to tour. But I mean, we had significant radio play in the ‘80s (with) “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” and other songs; as long as it was triple-A radio, my records got played. To the extent that there are some of those stations left, and sometimes on certain shows on public radio, I’ll show up. But it’s certainly not what it once was. I think that it’s partly being not from here. If I were in the pop world, that wouldn’t be an issue because it’s all global. But in the more esoteric area that I operate in, that’s made a difference. The profile in Canada is a lot higher.

But every now and then. … We're in the process of making a new album, which we recorded at (producer) Colin Linden’s studio in Nashville. I had shipped a bunch of gear there and went to the depot to pick it up. There’s a young woman doing the paperwork, and the supervisor comes by and he looks at the name on that paperwork and he looks at me and he goes, “You’re Bruce Cockburn?” So he turns to all these people in the office, and he’s going, “You gotta hear this guy! He’s one of the greatest musicians in the world!” It was a lovely feeling to hear somebody getting so enthusiastic about it. For me, in this country, that’s quite rare.

BGS: Does that ever get old?

Are you kidding? I mean, if people are importuning you because they want something, that gets old fast. But the fact that people are appreciating what they know of what I do? That’s a wonderful thing.

BGS: Here’s a quote from the story I wrote about your Folk Alliance award. “When he became known as a political writer, as opposed to previous tags of Christian writer or ‘the John Denver of Canada,’ [Cockburn] said, ‘I had not thought much about the effect of the political aspect of my songwriting; I’d always felt, and I still do, that the job is to tell the truth of the human experience as we live it. I’ve never been interested in protest for its own sake, or in ideological polemicizing. Just fucking tell it like you see it and feel it. If you don’t see it and feel it, write about something else. Songs need to come from the heart or they don’t count for much.'”

It seems like it should go without saying, but it apparently doesn’t.

BGS: As somebody who has written political songs, do you feel like those songs still have an impact, or can still have an impact?

Well, they do, in a limited way — assuming that it’s a good song to begin with; that it has something about it that people are going to be tweaked by. It really depends on the fertility of the field on which it falls. If there’s a body of public sentiment around an issue, and a song touches on that, and speaks to that, it will have an effect on people. It’ll help maybe reinforce their feelings and their willingness to get involved, or it may provide a kind of rallying point. But without that, it has no power. It’s really about the people more than the song. But there’s no question that a song like “We Shall Overcome” became an anthem that moved a lot of people who maybe wouldn’t have been so moved were they not invited to sing along with a song like that.

BGS: In this era, it’s harder to imagine something like that happening, and I think we’re worse off for it. But what’s your impression as the person on stage or in the studio, or in the room with the pen and paper?

I don’t know. You quoted me there and I kind of stand by that. I think it’s always worth doing. If you see yourself as an artist in the broadest sense, or maybe in the classical sense, let’s say, someone who practices an art as opposed to somebody who gets on TV — not that you can’t be both — but if you see yourself that way, it’s just the job. Sing about what you’re moved by, what you see around you and feel around you and feel coming at you.

For me, the elements of that change with passage of time. But I’m still pretty much the person that I started out being, at the core. I’ve always been playing to a minority audience because of that, and I think that’s what anybody who’s trying to do something real should expect. Once in a while, somebody doing something real cracks through, or there’s a window that opens in terms of the public and the media’s willingness to expose stuff that doesn’t conform to the norm. But those windows are usually not open for long.

BGS: Let’s talk about the new album. Anything you want to tell me about the songs you’re writing today?

There’s a lot of spiritual content — not explicitly Christian, although I consider myself a Christian. But I think the impulse to experience something on the spiritual level is universal, and more power to anybody that can go there. That’s partly a reflection of age, too; these are concerns that are larger than some other ones at this point in my life. But there are songs that have topical content; there’s a song called “To Keep the World We Know,” about global warming, that I’ve co-written with an Inuit artist, Susan Aglukark, a Juno Award-winning Canadian. But mostly, they’re personal, which is typical of me.

BGS: What about the three rereleases? Why those?

It was the 50th anniversary of True North. It was my 50th anniversary as a recording artist and my first album was the first album on True North Records. So they put out a commemorative thing. This is a better-sounding pressing. And then to go along with that, those two albums from the ‘90s are ones that I particularly like as an example of what I do. Those albums have never been on vinyl. That was the exciting part; there’s something really nice about vinyl. Not just the sound but the tactile thing, the big-format cover and all that.

There’s a couple of songs that are obscure; “Grinning Moon” would have fit on those ‘90s albums. I’m not really sure why it wasn’t included, but I think it’s a pretty good song. There’s another called “Come Down Healing” that includes verses that were recycled into other songs on Charity of Night. There was something about the song that didn’t work for me at the time, but when I listen to it now, it’s pretty good. I like the idea of these being out there and not being completely lost.

BGS: That gorgeous guitar intro on “Grinning Moon” really grabbed me. And on “Come Down Healing,” the imagery, the guitar work and the urgency — and I love the lyrics: “Sometimes darkness is your friend”; “On the seven cooling towers of the cancer apocalypse/on the 7 billion dreaming souls.” And to think that you’ve had that song around for this long and it still feels current and important.

This shit doesn’t go away.

BGS: That’s why we need people like you, to make sure we know.

Photo Credit: Daniel Keebler

© Daniel Keebler 1993-2024