True North 2019
Acclaimed Canadian minstrel lays his voice aside to let acoustic lace lead the way into realms of wonder.
Never afraid to delegate narrative to his fingers, this artist may have recorded an impressive variety of wordless cuts over the years, yet they mostly supported songs that brought Bruce Cockburn universal praise, and it took the veteran almost five decades to deliver an album where music would hardly require lyrics to give meaning to tunes. Comprising new numbers, “Crowing Ignites” – whose title refers to the Canadian’s clan motto and his Scottish heritage – is different from 2005’s “Speechless” which saw Bruce cull instrumental pieces from earlier LPs because there’s fresh context to explore and inhabit. Cockburn doesn’t need to deploy vocals to render a piece evocative and tell a story without uttering a single syllable: if most of the tracks fall under the “Folk” category, their stylistic variety can’t fail to rivet the listener to his travelogue – a trip through space and time.
Moving from Tibet to The Highlands to the Holy Land or gliding from Gallic to Gaelic melodies, Bruce and his regular producer Colin Linden – plus a few sympathetic accompanists scattered across the record – weave an exquisite acoustic tapestry that slowly wraps around one’s ears and oozes wonder while gradually revealing the immense depth on the slightly angular likes of “Bardo Rush” and “Bells Of Gethsemane” which would also spell out the album’s other recurrent theme: the delicate peel complementing a six-string strum. It’s impossible to not be enchanted by the filigree ripple and rumble of “April In Memphis” – shifting tempo and dynamics to fathom the Southern spirituality – and not feel spellbound by “Angels In The Half Light” where horror and hope lurk, but “Pibroch The Wind In The Valley” will offer a more windswept vista, smeared with mesmeric drone.
Although some of these numbers – such as the jazzy “The Mt. Lefroy Waltz” which is given brass and drums – are purely romantic, and old-time patina may serve them well, the transparency of “Seven Daggers” is solemn and pregnant with expectancy of evil to come down. And then, there’s a blues undercurrent to a couple of cuts, the handclaps-propelled “The Groan” – written for a Les Stroud film – and the insistent “Blind Willie” – a tribute to a gospel great Johnson, Bruce’s hero – pouring darkness in the otherwise sun-dappled sonic landscape. Simultaneously playful and philosophical, it’s a vibrant work that must change even an aficionado’s perception of Bruce Cockburn. At 74, he’s still full of surprises.