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My Dinner with Bruce (Songs of Bruce Cockburn)
Artist: Steve Bell 
Label: Signpost Music
Time: 13 tracks/55:58 minutes
 
The first time I heard Bruce Cockburn it was like an oasis in the desert. In a world where language can be dull, "Lord of the Starfields" and "Wondering Where the Lions Are?" fired my imagination with poetic lyrics and captivating sounds. Thereís nothing wrong with being straightforward; some people like their truth plain and simple. But thereís beauty to be enjoyed in creative expressions and words that are eloquent. What a delight to find that these are the first two songs on this new recording.
 
It seems fitting that Steve Bell would record an album of Cockburn songs. The latterís music has no doubt been an inspiration and influence. Itís a little like Michael Card and John Michael Talbot recording each other songs as they did on "Brother to Brother." Both were inspired by and resonated with the works of the other. As Steve began to play these songs, he felt like they had become his own.
 
After going through an unsettling time, Steve found himself returning to Cockburn songs that had been meaningful in the past and gave expression to his current state of mind. "Red Brother Red Sister" gave voice to what he saw on a recent trip to Palestine. After losing a much-loved home in the country, "Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon" became a repeated prayer. "Closer to the Light" lamented as well as anything the recent death of his dear friend and mentor, Fr. Bob MacDougal.
 
My Dinner with Bruce is an intimate experience. Bellís loving acoustic treatment breathes new life into these poetic muses. Though drums are seldom and percussion (courtesy of Alex Acuna and Steve Bell) is light, the music doesnít suffer from being too sparse. The mainstay of guitars, bass, and keyboards is highlighted by piano that at times borders on light jazz, Hammond B3, Wurlitzer, mandolin and shimmering electric guitar that weaves in and out of the background. 
 
Mostly slow to mid-tempo songs translate into a relaxing, peaceful and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Donít think boring; just be prepared to slow down a little. For those who have been running at a fever pitch or have frayed nerves, this is bound to soothe.
 
There are moments of beauty and even joy. "All the Ways I Want You" is as tender and as delicate as a love song can be. "Going to the Country" captures the exuberance that one can feel about such a trip. Itís performed with the appropriate energy. "Pacing the Cage" portrays a disquieting melancholy and restlessness. It reminds us that "sometimes the road leads through dark places, sometimes the darkness is your friend." "Southland of the Heart" is the perfect soundtrack for when everything seems to being going wrong and life leaves you feeling threadbare. Itís guaranteed to lighten the heart. 
 
If you have wondered about the faith of Bruce Cockburn, there is a definite spiritual thread that runs through these songs. Itís a fine collection of songs that give expression to his faith, love and thoughtful outlook.
 
It may be a distinct advantage if you havenít heard these songs before. It prevents comparison with the original versions, which can take away from Bellís own artistic interpretations. Itís not that these versions are inferior. When comparisons are made, there can be a failure to appreciate what it is that you have, which in this case is one man expressing himself through the songs of another. 
 
This is the kind of recording that doesnít get old. You can return to it again and again and find it rewarding.
 
Michael Dalton
March 25, 2006
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
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