You Pay Your Money and You Take Your Chance
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.