You Pay Your Money and You Take Your Chance    
The Charity of Night Tour EP 
Artist: Bruce Cockburn (live) 
Label: 1997.  Rykodisc.  True North. 

   
You gotta love Rykodisc!  That highly respected, but little-known Salem, Massachusetts, based CD company really knows how to make some fans happy. They're known for having signed a few high-profile clients such as David Bowie and Frank Zappa and re-releasing remastered versions of their albums on CD with goodies galore.  Plus, their trademark light-green CD jewel cases. Rykodisc released Bruce Cockburn's last album, The Charity of Night, last year.  Theirs is a perfect home for him--a record company that will let artists be artists and create what they will.  With over 30 years of experience in the music business Bruce Cockburn has paid his dues, and he doesn't need some young, hotshot record executive breathing down his neck to make some top 40 drivel.   Rykodisc knows this.  They respect Bruce and this little EP is perfect proof.  Back when Bruce's albums were being released by Columbia Records, you never, ever would've been offered an official The Charity of Night Tour EP.  Are you kidding?  That might lose money!  But Rykodisc, Bruce's friend and now ours, has released this six song EP for fans, collectors, and the enthusiastic initiate.  Bravo!  Keep ‘em coming.   
   
The irony of the title notwithstanding, You Pay Your Money and You Take Your Chance is not very risky and certainly worth coughing up  "cha-ching" at the cash register (be it by pound, Canadian or U.S. dollar, or insert your own currency here).   This EP is an intimate snapshot of the tour you've read raves about (see my review under Concerts) in support of an acclaimed album by Canada's premiere singer-songwriter.  Featuring six tracks and clocking in it at 37 minutes and 25 seconds, it's nearly as long as some albums.  Although a much longer live album with twice the cuts would be even more welcome (hint hint), this will make a very enjoyable addition, or even a starter CD, for your Bruce Cockburn collection.   According to the liner notes, it was originally recorded for the 105.5 Triple-M Radio Program "Mad City Live" which is a production of Audio for the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin.  (This, of course, settles any raging disputes that "those crazy Wisconsinites don't know nothing about music.")   The concert was recorded at Madison's Barrymore Theater on May 3, 1997.  You can be sure that show's audience is snapping up copies of this disc in greater Madison stores faster than you can say "the Green Bay Packers lost the Super Bowl this year."   

Now for the score.  Low points: 0.  High points:  6.  That makes this disc a  winner.   It opens with a solid rendition of "Call it Democracy," a hit rebel song from 1986's World of Wonders album which was one of his most successful commercial ventures.  This song is a concert crowd-pleaser because it's catchy, it has a powerful social message, and apparently because it makes a clever (and arguably appropriate) use of the F-word.  Oh, and it has a nice beat.  This song is also one of the reminders on this EP why Bruce Cockburn is not the most popular singer-songwriter on the planet.  His songs just make you think too much with your heart as well as your head. Nobody likes conviction these days.  The other reminder is "Stolen Land" which is a poignant song about the present and ongoing rape of North American Indian land and culture.  Witness this compelling charge:   

If you're like me you'd like to think we've learned from our mistakes enough to know we can't play god with other's lives at stake.  So now we've all discovered that the world wasn't only made for whites, what step are you going to take to try and set things right... in this stolen land?  

At just over seven minutes and featuring a roaring guitar solo, this is one of Bruce's finer moments on this disc.  This song's inclusion on this EP is no mystery.  The band is tight, the groove is thick, and the song is a concert highlight culled from a very different sounding original released on the 1987 Waiting for a Miracle greatest hits collection.  In fact, it's a song that Bruce has performed alternate versions of over the years.  This has to be the most kicking, romping version yet.  The third track is the first The Charity of Night song.  "Strange Waters" is a modern hymn expressing desire for a place of rest and peace in the tension of this chaotic yet compellingly scenic world of ours.  It's a beautiful, impassioned piece but not one of The Charity of Night radio hits--its inclusion here is both a surprise and a delight.  "Fascist Architecture" originally from 1980's Humans is a short, sweet and clever love song requiting past relational wrongs.  Exactly the sort of song some hotshot record executive would insist on pushing on the public back in its heyday.   After nearly twenty years, it's still a ditty that brings a smile and encourages hope.  "You Pay Your Money and You Take Your Chance" is the second oldest song on this compilation (1981's Inner City Front) and, therefore, an odd but amusing choice for the title of a brand new EP.   Here Bruce treats us to another amazing guitar solo with some precise picking coupled with tight playing on the part of his band.  It's classic Cockburn complete with pure poetry speedily delivered in Bruce's trademark let's-squeeze-that-lyric-in-before-the-chorus style. 

The disc closes with a jazzy brew of beatnik-lounge-blues glory meandering for nearly eleven minutes.   "Birmingham Shadows" is a rollicking account of an odd day spent befriending Ani DiFranco while an officer of the law looks on. It's also one of the most intimate, powerful songs from The Charity of Night and a cavorting guitar escapade worthy of closing the disc.  Honestly, at first the extended guitar jam didn't seem to be quite up to Bruce's excellent standards.  Not sloppy exactly, but more discordant and off time than I expected.  But after repeated listens my ear says "not so" proving me wrong and ashamed for even suggesting such blasphemy.  

You say, that's pretty high praise.  Any regrets?  These are all fine songs finely played, but there are plenty of other songs from the current tour like "Mines of Mozambique," "The Embers of Eden," and "Child of the Wind" that would've made great EP goodies as well.  Maybe next time...  Maybe on that coveted live album (hint hint).  Share the same enthusiasm as the fan who fervently yells "Bruce!  Bruce!" at the end of the disc, and pick up this EP. It is clearly a case of paying your money, taking little if no chance, and being very grateful for what you've got.   
 
By Steven Stuart Baldwin 

Tracks: 
1.) Call It Democracy (5:43) 
2.) Stolen Land (7:06) 
3.) Strange Waters (6:30) 
4.) Fascist Architecture (2:46) 
5.) You Pay Your Money and You Take Your Chance (4:31) 
6.) Birmingham Shadows (10:46) 

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